Gianni Schicchi Synopsis

The Story of Puccini's One-Act Opera

Gianni Schicchi Opera Performance
Cebula/Wikimedia Commons

Giacomo Puccini's one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi premiered on December 14, 1918, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The opera takes place in 13th century Florence and was inspired by an event that took place in Dante's Divine Comedy.

The Story of Gianni Schicchi

Like vultures, family members gather round the bed of the recently deceased aristocrat, Buoso Donati, to mourn his passing, while secretly hoping to inherit his great fortune. Betto, Donati's estranged brother-in-law, mentions a rumor that upsets the family. He has heard that Donati has left his entire fortune to a monastery. The family begins to frantically search for Donati's will. It is finally found by Rinuccio, the son of Donati's cousin, Zita. Rinuccio pulls Zita aside and asks for permission to marry Lauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. She tells him that he can marry whom ever he pleases once he gains his inheritance. Rinuccio sends a note to Gianni Schicchi and his daughter.

When the will is read, their fears have come true. Donati has, in fact, left his fortune to a monastery. When peasants, Gianni Schicchi and Lauretta arrive, they are treated poorly by the family. Rinuccio thinks that Schicchi can help recover Donati's wealth. Schicchi is insulted by the family's behavior and refuses to help. When Lauretta begs him (singing the famous "O bio babbino caro"), he finally changes his mind.

When Schicchi puts his plan in motion, he commands that everyone present mustn't tell anyone of Donati's death. They move the lifeless body into another room and call for the doctor. Schicchi hides behind the bed curtains when the doctor arrives. Delighted in Donati's recovery, the doctor departs boasting of his admirable skills, none the wiser he has been duped. Schicchi now has paperwork documenting that Donati is still alive. Disguising himself as Donati, he begins to create a new will. The family couldn't be any happier as they start claiming possessions (each has secretly bribed Schicchi into including particular items for them in the will). It isn't long that death bells ring from the church. Fearing that news of Donati's death has spread, they are relived to find out that the bells are signaling the death of their neighbor's servant. There are three remaining items that have yet to be distributed: the house, mule, and the mills. Since the family cannot determine who should get them, the leave it to Schicchi's discretion. When the notary arrives, Schicchi begins to dictate the new will. He lists the items that each family member has bribed him to include, which delights each one. However, he states that he leaves his house, mill, and a mule to his "good friend, Gianni Schicchi." The family is instantly furious, but they are unable to say a word. Should they speak up, the notary will discover their ploy and void the will. Not only that, the law states that any lying party member will have their hand chopped off. When the new will is notarized and the official leaves, the family erupts into a fuming argument. Schicchi kicks them all out of the house, which now belongs to him. Rinuccio and Lauretta stay behind after Schicchi approved their union.

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