Gianni Schicchi is a comic one-act opera by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, based on an incident mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The work is the third and final part of Puccini’s Il trittico (The Triptych)—three one-act operas originally written to be presented together. Although it continues to be performed with one or both of the other companion operas, Gianni Schicchi is now more frequently performed, either alone or with short operas by other composers.
Puccini had long considered writing a set of one-act operas which would be performed together in a single evening, but faced with a lack of suitable subjects and opposition from his publisher, he repeatedly put the project aside. However, by 1916 Puccini had completed the one-act tragedy Il tabarro and, after considering various ideas, he began work the following year on the solemn, religious, all-female opera Suor Angelica. Gianni Schicchi, a comedy, completes the triptych with a further contrast of mood. The score combines elements of Puccini’s modern style of harmonic dissonance with lyrical passages, and it has been praised for its inventiveness and imagination.
When Il trittico premiered at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in December 1918, Gianni Schicchi became an immediate hit, whereas the other two operas were received with somewhat less enthusiasm.
As Buoso Donati lies dead, his relatives gather round to mourn his passing, but are really more interested in learning the contents of his will. Among those present are his cousins Zita and Simone, his poor-relation brother-in-law Betto, and Zita’s nephew Rinuccio. Betto mentions a rumor he has heard that Buoso has left everything to a monastery; this disturbs the others and precipitates a frantic search for the will. The document is found by Rinuccio, who is confident that his uncle has left him plenty of money. He withholds the will momentarily and asks Zita to allow him to marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, a newcomer to Florence. Zita replies that if Buoso has left them rich, he can marry whom he pleases; she and the other relatives are anxious to begin reading the will. A happy Rinuccio sends little Gherardino to fetch Schicchi and Lauretta.
As they read, the relatives’ worst fears are soon realized; Buoso has indeed bequeathed his fortune to the monastery. They break out in woe and indignation and turn to Simone, the oldest and a former mayor of Fucecchio, but he can offer little help. Rinuccio suggests that only Gianni Schicchi can advise them what to do, but this is scorned by Zita and the rest, who sneer at Schicchi’s humble origins and now say that marriage to the daughter of such a commoner is out of the question. Rinuccio defends Schicchi in an aria “Avete torto” (You’re mistaken), after which Schicchi and Lauretta arrive. Schicchi quickly grasps the situation, and Rinuccio begs him for help, but Schicchi is rudely told by Zita to leave and take his daughter with him. Rinuccio and Lauretta listen in despair as Schicchi announces that he will have nothing to do with such horrible people. Lauretta makes a final plea to him with “O mio babbino caro” (Oh, my dear papa), and he agrees to look at the will. After twice scrutinizing it and concluding that nothing can be done, an idea occurs to him. He sends his daughter outside so that she will be innocent of what is to follow.
First, Schicchi establishes that no one other than those present knows that Buoso is dead. He then orders the body be hidden. A knock announces the arrival of the doctor, Spinelloccio. Schicchi conceals himself behind the bed curtains, mimics Buoso’s voice and declares that he’s feeling better; he asks the doctor to return that evening. Boasting that he has never lost a patient, Spinelloccio departs. Schicchi then unveils his plan in the aria “Si corre dal notaio” (Run to the notary); having established in the doctor’s mind that Buoso is still alive, Schicchi will disguise himself as Buoso and dictate a new will. All are delighted with the scheme, and whisper to Schicchi their personal requests, the most treasured of which are “the mule, the house and the mills at Signa”. A funeral bell rings, and everyone fears that the news of Buoso’s death has emerged, but it turns out that the bell is tolling for the death of a neighbor’s servant. The relatives agree to leave the disposition of the mule, the house and the mills to Schicchi, though each in turn offers him a bribe. The women help him to change into Buoso’s clothes as they sing the lyrical trio “Spogliati, bambolino” (Undress, little boy). Before taking his place in the bed, Schicchi warns the company of the grave punishment for those found to have falsified a will: exile from Florence together with the loss of a hand.
The notary and witnesses arrive, and Schicchi starts to dictate the new will, declaring any prior will null and void. To general satisfaction he allocates the minor bequests, but when it comes to the mule, the house and the mills, he orders that these be left to “my devoted friend Gianni Schicchi”. Incredulous, the family can do nothing while the lawyer is present, especially when Schicchi slyly reminds them of the penalties that discovery of the ruse will bring. Their outrage when the notary leaves is accompanied by a frenzy of looting as Schicchi chases them out of what is now his house.
As there is no longer any barrier for Lauretta and Rinuccio to marry, they sing a love duet, “Lauretta mia”; Schicchi stands moved at the sight of the two lovers. He turns to the audience and asks them to agree that no better use could be found for Buoso’s wealth: although the poet Dante has condemned him to hell for this trick, Schicchi asks the audience to forgive him in light of “extenuating circumstances.”