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Theatre / Gianni Schicchi

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Gianni Schicchi is a one-act comic opera by Giacomo Puccini, with a libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. It was originally written to be performed as part of a triptych of one-act operas with Il tabarro and Suor Angelica, and debuted as such in 1918, but is now commonly performed separately. It is the last opera Puccini completed in his lifetime, and his only primarily comic opera. Lauretta's aria "O mio babbino caro" ("Oh my dear papa") is one of those pieces of operatic music that many people are familiar with without knowing anything about where it comes from.

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The action takes place in 13th-century Florence, in the house of Buoso Donati. The wealthy Donati is dying, and his relatives have gathered to mourn (but mostly so they can be on the spot to find out what his will says). He dies, and his relatives search the house for his will, which to their horror leaves his entire fortune to a monastery. Rinuccio, one of the younger and more honest relatives, suggests they seek the advice of the cunning Gianni Schicchi. Rinuccio is in love with Schicchi's daughter Lauretta; his family disapproves of the match, and he hopes that if Schicchi is useful to them they will be more amenable. Schicchi, knowing the family's opinion of him, initially refuses to get involved until Lauretta pleads with him to help Rinuccio.

Schicchi proposes a plan: Since nobody outside the house knows of Buoso's death yet, he will impersonate Buoso and dictate a new will dividing the estate between the relatives. Each relative asks for a particular property while publicly declaring that they trust Schicchi to dispose wisely of Buoso's house and his most valuable business — and each, except for Rinuccio, makes a private attempt to bribe Schicchi to leave the house and business to them. When the notary arrives to make the new will, the false Buoso gives each family member what they publicly requested, and leaves everything else, including the house and business, to "my devoted friend Gianni Schicchi". The relatives are enraged, but realize they can't do anything without admitting their own involvement in the fraud. They leave, except Rinuccio, who sings a love duet with Lauretta. Gianni Schicchi reflects that he's done something that will get him in a lot of hot water, in this world or the next, but it was worth it to make Lauretta and Rinuccio happy.

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This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Prior to the opera, the best-known version of the story was a brief account in Dante's The Divine Comedy, in which Schicchi is motivated entirely by greed and winds up in the eighth circle of Hell. The opera adds the daughter and the less selfish motive.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The opera ends with Schicchi turning to the audience and imploring them to clap their hands if they believe he deserves a better fate than what he got according to Dante. He starts the applause himself.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Much of the characterization is in the commedia dell'arte tradition. Rinuccio and Lauretta are the innamorati, the young lovers with nothing much to do while most of the vecchi are trying to keep them apart. Maestro Spinelloccio, the doctor attending Buoso Donati, is il Dottore, complete with Bolognese accent. Schicchi is the zanni, the cunning servant who overcomes the obstacles keeping the innamorati apart; he combines the mercuriality of Arlecchino with the greed and magnificent duplicity of Brighella.
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  • Dead Person Impersonation: Gianni Schicchi temporarily impersonates Buoso Donati to fool the doctor and the notary.
  • Forging the Will: Buoso Donati's relatives conspire to get his will replaced with a false testament leaving everything to them instead of to the Church.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: The plot kicks off when the relatives discover that they've all been left out of Buoso Donati's will.
  • The Trickster: Gianni Schicchi.
  • Vague Age: The Dramatis Personae lists almost every character with his or her age, omitting the usual Voice Types. Buoso's poor brother-in-law Betto di Signa, however, is specifically designated "età indefinibile" (of indeterminate age).

Specific productions add examples of:

  • Of Corpse He's Alive: The real Buoso Donati's corpse is usually just hidden away. But Woody Allen's 2008 Los Angeles Opera production had the characters disguise the corpse as a panhandler and seat it on the doorstep of the house instead — and as the doctor and notary came and went from the house, they both obliviously gave it money.

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