Sunday Classics preview: Gianni Schicchi does it all for the young lovers
Woody Allen directs soprano Laura Tatulescu (Lauretta), tenor Salmir Pirgu (Rinuccio), and young Sage Ryan (Gherardino) in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera in 2008. (For that production of Puccini's Il Trittico, the well-known film director William Friedkin took on Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica.)
We tried this trick last night with Act I of Puccini's Tosca -- just jumping to the end. Maybe we can get away with it again with the one-act romp Gianni Schicchi.
We've been focusing, you recall, on the now nearly inescapable "O mio babbino caro," with a view to appreciating the brilliant and hilarious scene of which this amazingly beautiful aria is the hub. I've already advanced the argument that without hearing what leads into the aria, and what comes out of it, it is falsified into sappy sentimentality. And tomorrow we're going to try to nail down the musical and dramatic context.
For now I thought we'd hear the aria one more time, albeit with a bogus orchestral intro tacked on like the one we heard last week in the recording by Renée Fleming. Here, though, once the soprano opens her mouth, we're in the heat of the dramatic moment. I'm guessing that this singer doesn't require any further introduction.
PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi: "O mio babbino caro"
O my dear little daddy,
I like him. He's lovely, he's lovely.
I want to go to the Porta Rossa
to buy a wedding ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if I were to love him in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio,
but to throw myself in the Arno!
I'm pining and I'm tormented!
O God, I'd like to die!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!
Maria Callas, soprano; Philharmonia Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 15-18, 1954
Just to review the situation, it's 1299, you'll recall, and in the Donati house in Florence the relatives assembled to grieve their just-deceased kinsman Buoso, following a frantic search, have found a revised will that confirms the terrible rumor that Buoso left his most valuable possessions to the monks. The love-besotted young Rinuccio is still hoping somehow to persuade his formidable Aunt Zita to allow him to marry his beloved Lauretta, the daughter of the wily Gianni Schicchi.
ZITA, LA CIESCA, NELLA: Isn't there any way . . .
SIMONE, BETTO: To change it?
ZITA, MARCO: To get around it?
GHERARDO: To soften it?
MARCO: O Simone, Simone!
ZITA: You're the oldest.
MARCO: You've also served as mayor of Fucecchio.
[SIMONE makes a gesture as if to say that it's impossible to find a remedy.]
RINUCCIO: There's only one person who can advise us, perhaps save us.
THE OTHERS: Who?
RINUCCIO: Gianni Schicchi.
THE OTHERS: Oh!
ZITA: About Gianni Schicchi and his little daughter
I don't want to hear anything more ever said.
And you better understand.
LITTLE GHERARDINO [running in]: Here he is coming.
THE RELATIVES: Who?
GHERARDINO: Gianni Schicchi!
ZITA: Who called him?
RINUCCIO: I sent for him,
because I hoped --
ZITA: Ah, enough! If he comes up,
I'll fling him down the stairs!
GHERADO [to Gherardino, spanking him]: You should obey only your father. There! There!
SIMONE: For a Donati to marry the daughter of a peasant!
ZITA: Of someone who's descended on Florence from the countryside!
To be related to this new class!
I don't wish him to come!
I don't wish it!
RINUCCIO: You're wrong.
He's crafty, astute.
Every trick of the law and the codex
he knows through and through.
A wag! A joker!*
[*The Italian is the improbable five-syllable words "motteggiatore" and "beffeggiatore."]
Is there some new and rare practical joke going around?
It's Gianni Schicchi who's set it in motion.
Shrewd eyes light up with laughter
his strange face,
and his big nose throws a shadow
that's like an old ruined tower.
He comes from the countryside? Well, so what?
Enough of this petty, small-minded prejudice!
Florence is like a flowering tree,
which has its trunk and branches in the Piazza dei Signori,
but its roots bring in new strength
from the fresh and fecund valleys.
And Florence grows, and to the stars
rise solid palaces and slim towers.
The Arno, before running to the sea,
sings kissing the Piazza Santa Croce,
and its song is so sweet and sonorous
that streams have come down in chorus to join it.
In this way those gifted in arts and sciences have joined
to make Florence richer and more splendid.
And down from the castle of Val d'Elsa
has come Arnolfo to build his beautiful tower.
And Giotto has come from leafy Mugel,
and the courageous merchant Medici.
Enough with this these narrow-minded hates and these spites!
Long live the new class and Gianni Schicchi!
[There's a knock at the door.]
[The door opens; GIANNI SCHICCHI enters, followed by LAURETTA.]
Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Rinuccio; Cloë Elmo (c), Zita; Virgilio Lazzari (bs), Simone; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Antonicelli, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1949
Roberto Alagna (t), Rinuccio; Ewa Podles (ms), Zita; Enrico Fissore (bs), Simone; et al.; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Decca, recorded 1991
We're going to fill in some of the blanks tomorrow, but when Schicchi is verbally abused by Zita, despite a final desperate plea by Rinuccio, he swears in a rage that he will do nothing to help such people. And Lauretta swings into action with her famous aria. When she finishes her loaded-to-the-hilt entreaty, her dear daddy finally grumbles, "Give me the will." After several false starts, he comes up with the germ of an idea. He has the notary sent for and then, impersonating the late Buoso, dictates a new will, leaving those prized possessions . . . to his good friend Gianni Schicchi!
After the notary leaves, the Donati relatives rise in righteous wrath.
[SCHICCHI and the Donatis hurl imprecations at each other. As SCHICCHI tries to hustle them out of what is now his house, they loot everything they can carry. Finally they head out and down the stairs. SCHICCHI runs after them, rushing down the stairs. The window opens slowly, and Florence appears, bathed in sunlight; the two young lovers appear, embracing, on the terrace.]
RINUCCIO: My Lauretta, we shall always stay here.
Look! Florence is golden. Fiesole is beautiful.
LAURETTA: There you swore your love to me.
RINUCCIO: I asked you for a kiss.
LAURETTA: The first kiss.
RINUCCIO: Trembling and pale, you turned your face.
LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Florence in the distance seemed to us like Paradise!
[GIANNI SCHICCHI returns climbing the stairs, loaded with stuff that he throws to the ground.]
GIANNI SCHICCHI: The gang has fled!
[He sees the lovers, smiles, and turns to the audience]
Tell me, folks,
if Buoso's money
could have finished up better than this.
For this prank
they sent me to hell,
and so be it;
but with the permission of the great father Dante,
if this evening you've been entertained,
grant me [makes the gesture of applauding] extenuation.
Leo Nucci (b), Gianni Schicchi; Mirella Freni (s), Lauretta; Roberto Alagna (t); et al.; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Decca, recorded 1991
In the 1949 Met production the Schicchi, Italo Tajo, delivered the final address to the audience in English (of a sort).
Italo Tajo (bs), Gianni Schicchi; Licia Albanese (s), Lauretta; Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Rinuccio; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Antonicelli, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1949
IN TOMORROW'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST
We pin down the musico-dramatic place of "O mio babbino caro," and hark back to the young lovers Puccini pays homage to, in Verdi's Falstaff.
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