Sunday, August 01, 2010

Sunday Classics: Puccini makes a scene [cont'd]: "Gianni Schicchi" harks back to Verdi's "Falstaff"


The jacket of the original U.K. issue of EMI's 1958 recording of Gianni Schicchi, from which we hear a chunk below, featured this watercolor impression of the title character by none other than the performance's Schicchi, baritone Tito Gobbi.

by Ken

In last night's preview we sneaked ahead to the end of Gianni Schicchi, on the promise that today we were going to fill in some of the blanks. (And don't forget that way back when we saw a video clip of the first 10 minutes of the 2007 Met Gianni Schicchi.) Plus, we're also down to make the connection between Puccini's comic masterpiece and Verdi's great final opera, Falstaff.

For the story of Gianni Schicchi, Puccini and his Trittico librettist Giovacchino Forzano descended all the way to the Eighth Circle of Dante's Inferno. Wikipedia sketches what they found in the sources:
Literary sources

A man named Gianni Schicchi is only briefly referred to in Dante's Inferno Canto XXX:
E l'Aretin che rimase, tremando,
mi disse: 'Quel folletto è Gianni Schicchi,
e va rabbioso altrui così conciando.'

(And he of Arezzo, pausing, trembling,
told me, "That madman is Gianni Schicchi,
who gnaws the other in his raving.")

The text states that Schicchi
per guadagnar la donna de la torma,
falsificare in sè Buoso Donati,
testando e dando al testamento norma

(to gain for himself the fairest of the herd,
impersonated Buoso Donati,
making a will in proper form.)

That grim vignette is not the real source of the opera's action. A work entitled "Commentary on the Divine Comedy by an Anonymous Florentine of the 14th Century," first published in 1866, elucidating Dante's terse references, is the actual source to the familiar plot setup. In this, Buoso has wished to make a will, but was put off with words by his son, Simone. Once it is too late, Simone fears that Buoso may have made a will before his illness, unfavorable to Simone. Simone calls on Schicchi for counsel, and Schicchi coins the idea of the impersonation. Simone promises Schicchi he will be well rewarded, but Schicchi takes no chances, "leaving" a hefty sum to himself (though most goes to Simone), including the mule, and makes the bequests conditional on Simone's distributing the estate within fifteen days, otherwise everything shall go to charity.

Dante was no doubt somewhat biased in his description, having married into the Donati family himself, marrying Gemma Donati in 1295, five years after the death of his adored Beatrice.

This is still pretty far removed from the version of the story in the opera, but it at least gave Puccini and Forzano enough to begin fleshing out the predatory Donati clan, the way Schicchi is involved, and the ruse he concocts and pulls off.

Note in particular that there's no hint in the sources of the great young love of the Donati nephew Rinuccio and Schicchi's adored daughter Lauretta, which has been at the heart of our approach to Gianni Schicchi and in particular to its most famous excerpt, Lauretta's aria "O mio babbino caro."

Our starting point has been my insistence that ripped out of its proper setting, while the aria remains, obviously, an extremely pretty and touching thing, it tends to become a wallow in cheap sentimentality -- you know, the sort of thing that Puccini is widely accused of having made a career of. In context it's actually more beautiful, and more moving, and also side-splittingly funny.

Last week we listened first to the aria itself, and then I staked out my position that at a bare minimum it needs to be framed, first, by the enraged Schicchi's refusal to do anything to help the wretched snobs of the Donati clan to deal with the will of their late Buoso which disinherits them, to which Lauretta is responding, and at the end by darling Daddy's infinitely grudging response. That, to refresh your memory, would go something like this:

Gianni Schicchi: "A pro di quella gente?" . . . "O mio babbino caro"
GIANNI SCHICCHI: For the sake of those people?
Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!

LAURETTA: 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!

GIANNI SCHICCHI [grudgingly]: Give me the will.
Fernando Corena (bs), Gianni Schicchi; Renata Tebaldi (s), Lauretta; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Lamberto Gardelli, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962 By the way, even though we got to hear more of Fernando Corena's Schicchi than we did of poor Gabriel Bacquier's in the 1981 Met video clip that opened last Sunday's post, in which Renata Scotto sang "O mio babbino caro," I expect you'd like to hear more of what was a wonderful role assumption. Not to worry, we're going to hear more, though not from the Decca recording. In our original discussion of this scene, I noted that when Schicchi, enraged by his treatment at the hands of the Donatis, and in particular the formidable matriarch Zita, is prepared to hustle Lauretta the hell out of the house, Rinuccio makes a hilarious last-ditch appeal to his would-be father-in-law, going so far as to address him as "Signor Giovanni." We hear this at 1:18 of our next excerpt, in which we start at [b] in the text below, Schicchi's expostulation to Zita, "Brava, La Vecchia." Note that when he address her as "old woman," he's not being entirely rudely offensive; Zita is actually known, albeit not entirely flatteringly, as "La Vecchia." Note the young people's expression of despair ("Addio, speranza bella," "Farewell, beautiful hope"), which we hear again after Schicchi grudgingly takes possession of the will -- and twice after studying it declares that there's nothing to be done. Gianni Schicchi: [a] "Quale aspetto sgomento e desolato!" . . . [b] "Brava, la vecchia, brava" . . . [c] "Signor Giovanni, rimanete un momento" . . . "A pro di quella gente?" . . . "O mio babbino caro" . . . "Datemi il testamento"
[a] [GIANNI SCHICCHI enters, followed by LAURETTA.] SCHICCHI: How desolate and dismayed they look! Buoso must have gotten better. RINUCCIO: Lauretta! LAURETTA: Rino! RINUCCIO: My love! LAURETTA: Why so pale? RINUCCIO: Alas, my uncle . . . LAURETTA: Well, tell me . . . RINUCCIO: My love, my love, how much sorrow! LAURETTA: How much sorrow! [SCHICCHI advances slowly toward ZITA, who turns her back to him; advancing, he sees the candelabras around the bed.] SCHICCHI: Ah! Gone? [To himself.] Why all the tears? They act better than a strolling player. [Aloud, with false intonation.] Ah! I understand the sorrow of such a loss. My soul commiserates with you. GHERARDO: Eh! The loss has been really big! SCHICCHI [expressing stupid polite sentiments]: Eh! There are things . . .Bah! What can you do? In this world you lose one thing . . . you find another . . . if Buoso is lost, isn't there the inheritance? ZITA: Sure, for the monks! SCHICCHI: Ah, disinherited! ZITA: Disinherited! Yes, yes, disinherited! And that's why I'm telling you, take your little daughter and be off with you! I will not give my daughter to someone who's dowry-less. RINUCCIO: O aunt! I love her, I love her! LAURETTA: Daddy! Daddy! I want him! SCHICCHI: Little girl, a bit of pride! ZITA: I don't give a hang! [b] SCHICCHI: Brava, old woman! Brava! For the dowry you'll sacrifice my daughter and your nephew! Brava, old woman! Brava! [All simultaneously:] Old hag! Skinflint! Contemptible! Grasping! Mean! LAURETTA: Rinuccio, don't leave me! Ah, you swore it to me under the moon at Fiesole, you swore it when you kissed me! No, don't leave me! No, don't leave me, Rinuccio, no! RINUCCIO: My Lauretta, remember, you swore love to me. and that evening Fiesole seemed to be all a flower. Remember, remember, love, love. ZITA: He even insults me! Without a dowry I won't, I won't give my nephew, I won't give my nephew! Rinuccio, come, let them go! You would be inviting disaster! Come, come. LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Farewell, beautiful hope, every last ray has died. We won't be able to wed on May Day. SCHICCHI: Ah, come, Lauretta, come, dry your eyes, your new relations would be misers! A bit of pride! Ah, come, come! ZITA: But come, Rinuccio, come, but come, come, let them go. Go, get out of here! [Everyone continues in this vain, with RINUCCIO and LAURETTA occasionally crying, "Love!," until RINUCCIO appeals directly to SCHICCHI.] [c] RINUCCIO: Master Giovanni, remain a moment! [To ZITA] Instead of screaming, give him the will. [To SCHICCHI] Try to save us! You can't fail to have an important idea, a discovery, a remedy, a way out, an expedient! SCHICCHI: For the sake of those people? Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! LAURETTA: 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! SCHICCHI [grudgingly]: Give me the will. [RINUCCIO gives the will to SCHICCHI; the latter paces up and down, absorbed in reading. The relatives follow him with their eyes, then unconsciously wind up walking behind him. SCHICCHI stops suddenly.] SCHICCHI: Nothing to be done! LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Farewell, beautiful hope, sweet mirage. We won't be able to wed on May Day. [SCHICCHI returns to pacing, reading the will more carefully.] SCHICCHI [stopping suddenly]: Nothing to be done! LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Farewell, beautiful hope! Every ray has died. SCHICCHI: But . . . LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Perhaps we will be able to wed on May Day. [The relatives circle around SCHICCHI, watching him with great anxiety. SCHICCHI, motionless in the middle of the scene, gestures sparingly, staring in front of him. Little by little his face breaks out in a smile, triumphant.] THE RELATIVES: Well? SCHICCHI: Laurettina, go out on the terrace; take some little crumbs for the little bird. [Stopping RINUCCIO, who wants to follow LAURETTA.] Alone. [As soon as LAURETTA has left, SCHICCHI turns to the relatives.] No one knows that Buoso has breathed his last?
from [b]: José van Dam (bs-b), Gianni Schicchi; Roberto Alagna (t), Rinuccio; Felicity Palmer (ms), Zita; Angela Gheorghiu (s), Lauretta; et al.; London Symphony Orchestra, Antonio Pappano, cond. EMI, recorded August 1997 Now we're going to back up just a bit, to Schicchi's entrance (i.e., point [a]). This is the very point we got to last night when we heard Rinuccio making his plea on behalf of Schicchi, for whom it turns out Rinuccio has sent, thinking him the only person who might be able to help them with the fatal will. While I'm far from an unalloyed fan of Tito Gobbi, even though the voice -- always short at the top -- is short at the bottom for a role that seems closer to bass than to baritone territory, this is one of my favorite of his recordings. from [a]: Tito Gobbi (b), Gianni Schicchi; Victoria de los Angeles (s), Lauretta; Carlo del Monte (t), Rinuccio; Anna Maria Canali (ms), Zita; et al.; Rome Opera Orchestra, Gabriele Santini, cond. EMI, recorded July 1958 Of course we've left out one factor that Puccini surely anticipated: applause. In an actual performance, inevitably "O mio babbino caro" is going to stop the show for a while, thereby giving Schicchi an extra beat to stew in his predicament, wanting so badly to get himself and Lauretta the hell out of this accursed house but unable to bear her pain, even as he knows how she's manipulating him. Here are two wonderful live performances. from [a]: Italo Tajo (bs), Gianni Schicchi; Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Rinuccio; Cloë Elmo (c), Zita; Licia Albanese (s), Lauretta; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Antonicelli, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1949 from [a]: Fernando Corena (bs), Gianni Schicchi; Charles Anthony (t), Rinuccio; Belén Amparan (c), Zita; Laurel Hurley (s), Lauretta; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. Live performance, Feb. 8, 1958
* * *
It's a story that doesn't sound any less clichéd or any less miraculous however often it's told, how Giuseppe Verdi, who had already considered himself retired when he was pressed into composing Aida, sick to death of the deadly work-for-hire conditions of performance in even the world's greatest opera houses (what was the point of trying to set higher composing standards if there was no place to perform work of serious artistic ambition?), was lured by the younger critic, composer (most notably of Mefistofele), and librettist (most notably, if pseudonymously, of Ponchielli's La Gioconda), Arrigo Boito, into composing, in secrecy and exclusively for his own satisfaction, first Otelllo and then, with his 80th birthday on the horizon, Falstaff. It sounds like yet another dreary cliché that after all those decades of work, of resolutely bleak personal and philosophical outlook, in Falstaff Verdi undertook his first comedy since his generally disastrous second opera, Un Giorno di regno. The composer would claim that it was because no one had asked him to do so, and anyone who wishes is free to buy that explanation. And maybe it really doesn't need explaining why no one thought to suggest a comic subject to the creator of all those operatic masterpieces that reflect such a bleak, even hopeless, view of the human condition. Nevertheless, in his collaboration with Boito the idea not only came up but was carried through with miraculous brilliance. Falstaff is an agglomeration of miracles, and the one that I find most miraculous is that at such an advanced age Verdi both chose and was able and chose to invest such love and hope in the piece's children. Of course, if you're going to entertain any hope for the future of the human race, where else can you lodge it? Still, there is a point in the opera at which the focus subtly switches from the ridiculousness of Sir John Falstaff's amorous pursuits to the determination of a mother, Mistress Alice Ford, to override her husband's plan for their only child and see her married to the young man who makes her feel hopeful for the future. From the outset, though, there is what I can only call magic in the music of the always-joined young Nannetta Ford and her beloved Fenton, and it seems to me inconceivable that in the creation of the young lovers in Gianni Schicchi Puccini didn't have their story playing in his head. The nominal business of the second scene of Falstaff is the playing out of the letters we saw Sir John writing in the opening scene to Mistress Ford and her neighbor Mistress Meg Page, attempting to seduce these merry wives of Windsor, with a view toward raising some much-needed cash from the adventure. In this astonishingly concise scene we get the reactions to Falstaff's letters, first alternately but eventually simultaneously, of the women and the men (Falstaff's plot having been blown by his much-aggrieved followers, Bardolfo and Pistola). Threading through their doings, however, are the young people's frantic efforts to steal moments of intimacy. VERDI: Falstaff: Act I, Scene 2, "Psst, psst, Nannetta"
FENTON [softly, behind the bushes]: Psst, psst, Nannetta. NANNETTA [putting her finger to her lips in a sign for silence]: Shhh. FENTON: Come here. NANNETTA [looking around, with caution]: It's quiet. What do you want? FENTON: Two kisses. NANNETTA: Quickly. FENTON: Quickly. [They kiss rapidly.] NANNETTA: Lips like fire! FENTON: Lips like flowers! NANNETTA: That know the jolly game of love. FENTON: That speak nonsense, that reveal pearls, beautiful to look at, beautiful to kiss. [Tries to embrace her.] Gossamer lips! NANNETTA [defending herself and looking around]: Naughty hand! FENTON: Murderous eyelashes! Thieving pupils! I love you. NANNETTA: Imprudent. [FENTON goes to kiss her again.] No. FENTON: Yes. Two kisses. NANNETTA [freeing herself]: Enough. FENTON: I want you so much! NANNETTA: People are coming. [They separate from each other as the women return.] FENTON [singing as he goes out] A kissed mouth never lacks for fortune. NANNETTA [continuing FENTON's song as she joins the other women]: Instead it's renewed, as the moon is.
Mirella Freni (s), Nannetta; Alfredo Kraus (t); RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1963 Maureen O'Flynn (s), Nannetta; Ramón Vargas (t), Fenton; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. Sony, recorded live, June 21-30, 1993 A bit later in the scene, "Torno all' assalta" ("I return to the assault")
FENTON: I return to the assault. NANNETTA: I return to the defense. FENTON: Parry! [He tries to kiss her. She covers her face with a hand, which he kisses and would like to kiss again but NANNETTA lifts it as high in the air as she can, and FENTON is unable to reach it with his lips.] NANNETTA: The target is way high. Love is an agile tournament. Its court rules that the weaker wins over the stronger. FENTON: I'm armed; I see you. I await you at the pass. NANNETTA: The lips are the bow. FENTON: And the kiss is the arrow. Beware, the fatal shaft is already flying from my lips into your hair. [He kisses her hair.] NANNETTA [winding her hair around his neck while he kisses it]: Here you are conquered. FENTON: I plead for my life! NANNETTA: I'm wounded, but you're conquered. FENTON: Mercy! Mercy! Let's make peace, and then -- NANNETTA: And then? FENTON: If you will, let's start over again! NANNETTA: The best games don't last long. Enough. FENTON: My love. NANNETTA [running out]: People are coming. Goodby! FENTON: [going away, singing]: A kissed mouth never lacks for fortune. NANNETTA [answering from afar]: Instead it's renewed, as the moon is.
Mirella Freni (s), Nannetta; Alfredo Kraus (t); RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1963 Maureen O'Flynn (s), Nannetta; Ramón Vargas (t), Fenton; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. Sony, recorded live, June 21-30, 1993 The lovers finally get solo opportunities in the midnight Windsor Park scene, where the merry wives enlist most of the town, in disguise, to get back at Falstaff. Mistress Ford has disguised Nannetta as the Queen of the Fairies, against whom Sir John has been warned especially. After the magical (sorry, but the word keeps coming up in connection with Falstaff) orchestral introduction, Fenton has his aria. Act III, Scene 2, introduction and aria (Fenton), "Dal labbro il canto estasiata vola" ("From my lips my ecstatic song flies")
[Herne's Oak stands at the center. The banks of a ditch show in the background. The trees and shrubbery are in bloom. It is night. [The far-off cries of nightwatchmen are heard. Slowly the park is lit by the rays of the moon. FENTON enters.] FENTON: From my lips my ecstatic song flies in the silent night and goes far and finally meets other human lips that answer it with their word. Then the note, which is no longer alone, trembles with joy in a secret accord, and bathing the pre-dawn air in love with the other voice makes its way back to its source. There the sound resumes, but its care attempts always to unite what separates it. Thus I kissed the longed-for lips! A kissed mouth never lacks for fortune. NANNETTA [offstage, distant and coming nearer]: Instead it's renewed, as the moon is. FENTON [running to where her voice was heard]: But the song dies in the mouth that touches it. [FENTON sees NANNETTA, who enters, and embraces her. NANNETTA is dressed as the Queen of the Fairies. With her is ALICE, not masked, carrying a robe over her arm and a mask in her hand.] ALICE: No, sir, you put on this robe.
Alfredo Kraus (t), Fenton; Mirella Freni (s), Nannetta; Ilva Ligabue (s), Alice Ford; RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1963 Ramón Vargas (t), Fenton; Maureen O'Flynn (s), Nannetta; Daniela Dessì (s), Alice Ford; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. Sony, recorded live, June 21-30, 1993 Later in that scene, "Ninfe! Elfi! Silfi!" . . . aria (Nannetta), "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" ("Nymphs! Elves! Sylphs!" . . . "On the breath of a seasonal breeze") Preparations for the double game, the tormenting of Falstaff and Alice's plan for Nannetta, proceed. Falstaff arrives, in a state of advanced alarm. Finally it's showtime. Nannetta and her cohort of fairies are first heard offstage.
NANNETTA, as the Queen of the Fairies, organizes her party of nymphs, elves, sylphs, dryads, and sirens offstage and ushers them onstage, where Falstaff is cowering before Herne's Oak, having been warned that anyone who sees the fairies will die. When the large cast of characters is in place, NANNETTA sings. NANNETTA: On the breath of a seasonal breeze, run about, you agile specters, among the branches a blue glow of moonlight rises. Dance! And let your fairy steps be measured by a fairy tune, which joins your magic dancing to a magic song. THE FAIRIES: The wood is asleep and breathes out perfume and shadow; it shines in the black night air like a green cavern deep in the sea. NANNETTA: We wander under the moon, choosing flower to flower. Each blossom in its heart carries its fortune. With lilies and violets we write secret names; from our fairy hands blossom words. Words that gleam with pure silver and gold, charms and spells. Fairies have flowers for figures. THE FAIRIES: Let's move one by one under the moon's halo toward the dark shadow of the Black Huntsman.
Mirella Freni (s), Nannetta; et al.; RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1963 Maureen O'Flynn (s), Nannetta; et al.; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. Sony, recorded live, June 21-30, 1993 SUNDAY CLASSICS POSTS The current list is here.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home