Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi – Finally, Puccini wrote a comic opera.

Gianni Schicchi is actually the last opera the maestro completed. It was ready in 1918 and after that, he worked on, but never finished, Turandot until he died in 1924. That fact has a strikingly eery similarity with Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, which was Verdi’s only attempt to write a comedy (if we don’t count the early flop, Un giorno di regno). Do we understand the true meaning of life better at the end of it?

Anyway, after Mascagni’s huge success with Cavalleria Rusticana, followed by Leoncavalli’s Pagliacci, one-act operas had become high-fashion in Italy. And Puccini wanted to enter the game. For that, he had several ideas. First of all, he wanted to write three short operas, to be presented together, not only one.

He considered three French stories. Then he sought inspiration from his long-time collaborator and friend Giuseppe Giacosa, together with whom he had triumphed in La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. But unfortunately, Giacosa died in 1906. 

Then he turned to the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who at the time lived in Italy. But Gorky’s political ideas weren’t all that popular in Puccini’s circles. He turned to Italy, but finding an Italian literary basis for the three stories turned out to be a challenge.

The librettist of Gianni Schicchi
Giovacchino Forzano

And during all these years he was constantly interrupted by other commissions. First by Madama Butterfly in 1904. Then by La Fanciulla del West in 1910. After he had finished La Rondine in 1916, He managed to complete at least one one-act piece, namely Il Tabarro. But that’s when his inspiration dried out. He even considered combining Il Tabarro with his very first opera, Le Villi

Giovacchino Forzano

Forzano was only 30 when he wrote the libretto to Sour Angelica, the second of the operas in The Triptych. When he sent Puccini his libretto, he mentioned that he had a great outline for a comic opera. Puccini was not overly enthusiastic at first, and neither was Ricordi, his publisher. An opera in Florence in the Middle Ages… Well, could that turn out to be funny?

But Forzano’s text was good… brilliant, one could say. The fast, snappy comments, and the pungent satire are quite unique for an opera. And both its subject and style are very different from the tragic and melodramatic heroines that had previously dominated Puccini’s creation. So, he got to work, and in 1918 Gianni Schicchi was finished. 

Gianni Schicchi and World War 1.

1918 was a difficult time for the world. The great war had just finished and most of Italy and Europe lay in ruins. To that came the Spanish flu, and a general lack of possibilities for everything from traveling to setting up big operas. So, Puccini reluctantly agreed to premiere his new Triptych in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

Metropolitan Opera House
The first production in New York 1918

It was a polite success for Il Tabarro and Sour Angelica. For Gianni Schicchi, on the other hand, the reception was overwhelming. Both critics and the audience loved it. Puccini tried to keep his three operas tied together for a few years, but then he just couldn’t hold Gianni Schicchi back. 

Today Gianni Schicchi is more often than not paired with other short operas or ballets, not by Puccini. Every now and then the whole Triptych is performed, and if you have a chance to see it you should definitely go. 

Gianni Schicchi is frequently combined with either Pagliacci or Cavalleria Rusticana. To me, that is actually a better combination than the classical Cav/Pag double. With Gianni Schicchi, you get one brutal and tragic story, and after the interval, you get a comedy. Still, even while smiling at the ridiculous Donatis, the full Puccini strings, and the flowing melodies let you stay safely draped in the Verismo velvet.

Gianni Schicchi's composer
Giacomo Puccini

Premiere – Metropolitan Opera House, New York, USA.

Composer – Giacomo Puccini

Librettist – Giovacchino Forzano

Running Time – A little less than one hour.

One Act

There is no overture 

In Italian

Main characters

Gianni Schicchi – Lyric Baritone (Needs to have very good acting qualities). A hopped-up, “new rich” entrepreneur. Smart, but despised by the Donatis. 

Lauretta – Lyric soprano. His daughter. Very much in love with Rinuccio.

Zita Donati – Contralto. Cousin of the late Buoso. Immensely proud to be from one of the oldest and finest noble families of Florence. 

Rinuccio – Lyric Tenor (Sometimes he’s sung by a rather light tenor since the tessitura [average height] is high. The voice should have the typical roundness of a Puccini tenor though). Her nephew. Very much in love with Lauretta.

Then there are quite a few of Buoso’s cousins and nephews.  

Download this short Pdf-guide. Print it, fold it, and keep it in your pocket as a help when you’re at the Opera. Please keep your phone turned off when inside the theater

Background – The opera Gianni Schicchi is set in…


The time is 1299.

The background is that the very rich Buoso Donati is dead. We see his body on a big bed. Around him, there is all his family even down to his cousin’s son’s wives. They are crying loudly but their true object is to get their hands on Buoso’s money… 

Florence, Italy
Florence and the church of Santa Maria del Fiore

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After a few seconds, we hear C – Bb – C – Bb – A – G repeated by Bb – A – Bb – A – G – F. It’s a short theme that will accompany us throughout the opera. In the beginning it’s slow and sad, expressing the sighing of all Buoso’s family. But later Puccini twists it to express all kinds of emotions.

We hear them moaning and sobbing…

 – Poor Buoso… Poor uncle… Poor cousin… 

This is very much an ensemble opera. There are really only one, or maybe two arias, ok three arias. The rest are exquisite and very humorous ensembles. 

So, Buoso Donati is dead, and rumor has it that he’s left all his fortune to the monks in Signa. So, if the will is with the notary, there’s nothing they can do. But if they would find it lying around in his apartment…

 – … Guajo pei frati, ma per noi, speranza! (In that case, bad the monks, but for us… Hope!)

Rinuccio, Zita’s son finds it and we learn about his flaming love for the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. If he gets some of the money he will be able to marry her. And immediately he sends little Gherardino to fetch Lauretta and her father.

… But their darkest fears turn out to be right. Buosa has given all to the monastery in Signa. Zita expresses their common thoughts:

 – Who could have guessed that when Buoso died, we would feel so truly broken-hearted. 

But Rinuccio still hopes to marry Lauretta, and that’s why he sent for Gianni Schicchi. Gherardino announces that the “scoundrel” has arrived. The Donatis despise him because he is a lower-class noble and nouveau-riche.  But Rinuccio presents his case and tries to convince his relatives with the wonderful…

 – Firenze è come un albero fiorito… (Florence is like a blooming tree…)

Gianni Schicchi – The savour…

So Gianni enters and from the Donatis’ sad faces, he understands that they were left out of the will. Zita and he start an intense argument, and they’re using Rinuccio and Lauretta as weapons… When he turns to walk away, Rinuccio begs him to at least look at the will…

And we have arrived at the highlight of the evening. Lauretta’s aria:

 – O mio babbino caro… (O dearest Daddy… I love him, and if I can’t have him, I’ll go to Ponte Vecchio and throw myself into the Arno…)

So Gianni Scicchi reluctantly makes up a plan. At that point, Buoso’s physicist arrives. Schicchi fools him into believing that the old man is still alive by imposing his voice. Then, in his full vocal splendor, he announces how he is going to do it…  

 – Ah, che Zucconi! (You’re all idiots!)

The Plan

The setup is as simple as it is genius. Schicchi will take the deceased’s place, and change the will. They will have the notary come to the house. There Scicchi, impersonating the non-yet-dead Buoso, will modify the will to everybody’s liking. 

At this point, the relatives all change their attitude against the lower-class noble. And slowly they start to understand that he now is in charge of the split of the assets. Schicchi will decide who gets what…

Before he dresses up as Buoso and gets into the role he warns all of them about the penalty for criminal impersonation… As for any accomplices to such a crime…

 – First, they cut your hand off. Then you are exiled…

Schicchi sings a short phrase with a very clear message to the Donatis…

 – Farwell Florence. I salute you… with this stump…

Gianni Schicchi
Leo Nucci, an awesome Gianni Schicchi.

The execution of the plan

So, the notary arrives. And this is a truly funny scene when the legally qualified bookworm is fooled by Schicchi.

The fake Buoso starts by giving his cash in equal parts to all his relatives. Then he goes on to give each part one of his smaller estates outside of Florence, as requested. But when he arrives at Buoso’s true fortune consisting of the big house in Florence, his mills, and his mule (… which for some reason is immensely valuable), he drops the bomb…  

 – I leave all of it to my trusted friend, Gianni Schicchi!

The only ones who are happy, apart from Gianni Schicchi himself, are Rinuccio and Lauretta who finally can marry. 

Schicchi catches all the Donatis out of his newly inherited residence. Then he turns to the audience with the typical Comedia dell’Arte finale. In spoken words, he asks us:

 – For this bizarreness, they sent me to hell. But if you were entertained tonight by this story, wouldn’t you mitigate my sentence…?

Things to look out for.

Curtain up – Listen for the “sighing”-theme.

15 minutes – Firenze è come un albero fiorito. Rinuccio’s aria

17 minutes – Schicchi arrives at Buoso’s house.

21 minutes – O mio Babbino caro… Lauretta’s aria

26 minutes – Doctor Spinelloccio arrives and Schicchi’s expertise is put to the test.

29 minutes – Ah che Zucconi! Schicchi explains the plot.

38 minutes – Prima un Avvertimento! Schicchi threatens the Donatis with exile and amputation.

40 minutes – The notary arrives.

45 minutes – Schicchi starts to distribute the heritage to himself.

The real Gianni Schicchi

His full name was Gianni Schicchi de’ Cavalcanti. Much like the character in the opera, he was a lower-class noble from Florence, well known for a certain talent of his. He could impersonate people so well that he could fool their friends and relatives. This ability, together with an eye for practical jokes made him popular among the Florence elite.

L'Inferno The Divine Comedy by Dante
Schicchi is the red-head

The great Dante Alighieri mentions him in the first part, Inferno, of his The Divine Comedy. There he is, among the dishonest being forever savagely assaulting and being assaulted for having impersonated Buoso, just like in the opera.

From writings of the time, it is possible that the event really happened. Buoso Donati il Vecchio existed, he was rich, and he was without children. His nephew, Simone, supposedly had Schicchi change the will to his benefit. Otherwise, the state of Florence would have gotten everything. For that, Schicchi supposedly earned a horse, but that is unconfirmed.  

Download this short Pdf-guide. Print it, fold it, and keep it in your pocket as a help when you’re at the Opera. Please keep your phone turned off when inside the theater.