A famous one-act opera by Giacomo Puccini, it is considered his most humorous and least depressing work (considering that his main characters in other operas tend to die off in droves). It is one of three one-act works known collectively as II Trittico.


Many musicologists claim the story is based on a short passage from Dante's Divine Comedy, which appears in Canto XXX:

Rage so merciless was never seen,
Either at Thebes or Troy - nor yet again
When beasts, or human limbs, are gashed with wounds -
As that I saw, in two pale naked shades
Who, biting, ran about in that strange way
A boar will do, when loosened from his pen.
One, seizing on Capocchio, fixed his teeth
So firmly in his neck, he dragged him down,
Making his belly scrape along the bottom.
He of Arezzo, who stood trembling by,
Said to me: ``That mad soul is Gianni Schicchi
Who mangles others in his frenzied rage.''
``Oh,'' I replied, ``so may that other spirit
Never attack you! Pray do not disdain
To tell us who it is, ere it departs.''
And he to me: ``That is the ancient shade
Of the abandoned Myrrha, who became
Her father's mistress in unhallowed love.
'Twas by deceit she came to sin with him,
Assuming for the nonce another's form -
Even as that other frenzied shade once dared,
That he might gain the fairest of the stud,
To counterfeit the person of Donati,
Making a will in proper legal form.''
translation by Lawrence Grant White

In fact, evidence suggests the story has basis in the actual history of Florence, Italy. The Commentary on the Divine Comedy by an Anonymous Florentine of the 14th Century, a text published in 1866, tells the story of Messer Buoso Donati and his son Simone. When Buoso Donati died, he called on the commoner Gianni Schicchi to impersonate his father, and had him craft a new will. However, instead of leaving the estate to Simone, as the son requested, Schicchi left almost everything to himself. Of course, Simone stayed silent out of fear, and Schicchi got away scot-free.


The opera itself, unlike the conventional perception of the genre, is rather short and fast moving. All action happens in one long scene, and there are only three clearly identifiable arias, with the rest of the singing taking the form of recitative. The score is interspersed with witty jokes and physical comedy, and the characters are all humorously melodramatic.

The opera opens with Buoso Donati's relatives kneeling around his bed. Buoso has just died, and his relations are in mourning. However, their shows of grief are soon interrupted by a rumor from the shabby Betto, who says that Buoso has left his money to the friars. The relatives frantically search the bedroom, and after finding the will, they discover that the rumors are true.

The young Rinuccio exclaims that the only person who can save them is the commoner Gianni Schicchi. The relatives express their disgust, despite Rinuccio's repeated attempts to win them over. Nevertheless, Gianni soon arrives with his daughter Lauretta. Zita, the old aunt, incites a fight, and Gianni refuses to help them.

At this point, Lauretta sings her famous aria O mio babbino caro, in which she begs her father to stay and help. She wants to marry Rinuccio, and she claims the Donatis are hopeless without Gianni's help. He agrees, and they begin to formulate their plan.

As they prepare, the doctor arrives, and they must scramble to hide their machinations. Gianni jumps into the bed and impersonates Buoso, successfully fooling the doctor. They continue their trickery by calling for the lawyer and drafting a new will.

Gianni leaves some token possessions to the relatives, but leaves the mansion, mule, and mills at Signa to himself. The relatives rise up against him in anger, but he reminds them of the punishment for fraud, and they stop their protestations.

When the lawyer leaves, the relatives attack Gianni, and then begin to grab everything they can find. He drives them out of his new house, leaving only Lauretta and Rinuccio. As they reaffirm their love and embrace, Gianni turns to the audience and defends his actions, saying there is no better use for Buoso's money than for his daughter's dowery.

Thanks: Opera Glass - http://opera.stanford.edu

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