(Previous section here.)
Gianni Schicchi is based on a figure, Gianni Schicchi, who makes a brief appearance in Canto 30 of Dante’s Inferno. In the poem he bites a dead alchemist on the neck and runs away.
Or rather, he bites the alchemist, drags him along the ground for a bit, and then runs away. Schicchi suffers this fate – he has been rendered eternally rabid – because in life he falsified a will. (I do not pretend to understand the theology behind it, but that is what is in the text.) The falsification of this will is the subject of the opera.
As I mentioned earlier, they performed all three parts of Puccini’s ‘triptych’ (have I EVER learned over the past few days that it’s triptYch and not trYptich!) in one evening and by this point Scotto (Lauretta) seems a little fatigued – but fortunately she doesn’t have much to do other than the brief “o mio babbino caro” which I had never realized is not just unalloyed Puccini sweetness – rather it’s Lauretta sweet-talking her father into doing what she wants, which makes me like it a bit more. I’d only ever heard this on various recital CDs, and unless the singer is really good at characterization via singing alone, this quality doesn’t always come across. Or at least it didn’t come across to me until now.
I found parts of this opera hard to process in musical terms, because it’s got a few of those ‘everybody sing at once!’ sections that I associate with late-Romantic opera where you have a whole bunch of vocal parts plus a great big orchestra all racketing around at once and I am not smart enough to follow it all on a first hearing and it’s sort of exhausting. I mean, it’s entertaining, but I am not sure I actually heard much of it. I liked the little trio/quartet where the three women are trying to butter up Schicchi, though. While I’m talking about that I should add that the performers have a good rapport with the audience on this one, as far as the humor is concerned.
So. Three one-act operas that represent, as per the DVD case, the “full spectrum of human experience.” I can see why they all go together. Each one involves someone trying in some way to game the system. Giorgetta has an affair, Suor Angelica attempts to kill herself, a mortal sin, in order to rejoin her son, and Schicchi tricks a bunch of greedy Florentines into allowing him to re-write a will in his own favor. Each fails – sort of. Giorgetta’s husband gets wise and kills the lover, surprising his wife with Luigi’s body. Angelica realizes her error when it’s too late (at the risk of being unkind, a person might think she’s a bit slow on the theological uptake for a nun – but then again, the poor woman has had a fairly awful day) and Schicchi — well, Schicchi wins, doesn’t he? He gets the property, which it is implied he will use to provide his daughter with a dowry so she can marry whatsisiface in the red doublet. Dante wants us to think that Schicchi is punished for this, but Puccini’s librettist is a little nicer: the opera ends with Schicchi asking the audience not to think too harshly of him.
So, we’ve got three one-act operas about following the rules, or not following the rules. Or three operas about being so consumed with desire for something — a lover and the city in Giorgetta’s case, reunion with a child in Angelica’s, or some farms, a mule and a mill for old Buoso’s relatives — that you do fatefully ill-advised things. This concept is played for verismo tragedy in the first case, slightly more traditional tragedy in the second, and laughs in the third. Make of that whatever you want. Myself, I think I’m going back to Mozart tomorrow.