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A Florentine Tragedy ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY (1871 – 1942)

Gianni Schicchi GIACOMO PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)


Table of Contents Welcome...................................................................................................................................................... 3 A FLORENTINE TRAGEDY Characters and Synopsis........................................................................................................................... 4 Composer and Librettist Biography..................................................................................................... 5 Opera at a Glance......................................................................................................................................... 6 Listening Guide............................................................................................................................................. 7 What to Look for........................................................................................................................................... 10 GIANNI SCHICCHI Characters and Synopsis........................................................................................................................... 13 Composer and Librettist Biographies.................................................................................................. 15 Opera at a Glance......................................................................................................................................... 16 Listening Guide............................................................................................................................................. 17 What to Look for........................................................................................................................................... 20 Credits............................................................................................................................................................... 23

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


Welcome Dear Educators and Students, Opera can move us, it can excite us. It’s a tool for learning about ourselves and those around us. The study of opera opens doors to new cultures, languages, artistic and literary forms, important events in history, music and so much more. To help you discover the beauty, significance and thrill of opera, the COC has designed accessible Study Guides. Each Study Guide introduces you to the key figures involved in the creation of an opera, and deepens your understanding of its characters and story. Is listening to an opera intimidating for you or your students? Not to worry. We’ve highlighted composers’ musical techniques in easy-to-follow Listening Guides. Not sure if you’re going to understand the staging? We’ve got that covered for you too. The What to Look For articles explain the creative team’s concept, key points of inspiration for their adaptation of the piece and visual elements to look for on stage. Use these Study Guides as the basis for stimulating and thought-provoking discussions before, during or after your visit to the opera. I welcome you into the Canadian Opera Company community and encourage you to actively engage in the opera experience long before and after the curtain falls. Katherine Semcesen Associate Director, Education and Outreach

“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.”

Preliminary costume sketch for Bianca for A Florentine Tragedy, by costume designer Terese Wadden

Maria Callas, renowned GreekAmerican soprano

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide

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A Florentine Tragedy: Characters and Synopsis MAIN CHARACTERS Name Guido Bardi Simone Bianca

Description Prince of Florence A merchant Simone’s wife

Voice Type Tenor Baritone Soprano

Pronunciation GWEE-doh BAR-dee see-MOH-neh bee-YUNG-kah

SYNOPSIS In the house of a prosperous Florentine merchant, Bianca, the merchant’s wife, is entertaining her lover Guido Bardi when they are interrupted by the unexpected return of her husband Simone. Simone asks Guido if he is here to buy some of his precious wares, then provokes him by insinuating that he has cuckolded several husbands. Guido offers Simone a huge amount of money for his merchandise. Simone counters by offering his entire household. When Guido asks for Bianca, Simone pretends to assume that he has requested her as a housekeeper. Bianca confides to Guido that she wishes her husband dead. Simone has overheard part of the conversation and declares that his home is no place for death, which instead belongs in a home where adultery lives. He asks Guido to play his lute but Guido refuses, preferring instead to hear Bianca’s voice. His flirting continues, and when Simone leaves the room, the lovers plan their next tryst. Simone re-enters, finds his sword and tells the story of a robber he met on the road, whose throat he slit. He challenges Guido to some playful sword fighting. The fight ends as Simone grasps Guido by the throat and kills him. Over Guido’s dead body Simone and Bianca see each other as they never have before and fall into each other’s arms.

Right: Preliminary costume sketch for Simone for A Florentine Tragedy, by costume designer Terese Wadden

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


A Florentine Tragedy: Biography of Alexander Zemlinsky (1871 – 1942) Alexander Zemlinsky was born into a Jewish family on October 14, 1871 in Vienna, Austria. He began his musical studies at the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 13. He studied piano and composition, winning prizes for both. An early influence was composer Johannes Brahms, who recommended the young Zemlinsky’s Clarinet Trio, Opus 3 (1896) to his publisher. Another influence was composer Richard Wagner; after seeing a performance of Lohengrin, the young Zemlinsky was left in a “fever of excitement.”

These busy conducting years served to expose him to a wide variety of composers and musical styles. This influenced his own composing style, which was flexible and constantly evolving. His major influences remained Wagner, Mahler, Strauss and Brahms. Even though Zemlinsky maintained a very demanding schedule at the Neues Deutsches Theater, he found the time to write some of his most successful compositions during this Prague period, including Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy) and Der Zwerg (The Dwarf, 1921). The latter, in particular, garnered high praise, with composer Alban Berg hailing its “wonderful flow of glorious melody.”

In 1895 Zemlinsky met Arnold Schoenberg, who would become a student, artistic collaborator, friend and brotherin-law. Zemlinsky’s first opera, Sarema (1897) was highly praised when it premiered in Munich. His second opera, Es war einmal (1900), was conducted by Brahms at its premiere but received mixed reviews. Some critics found fault with the fact that Zemlinsky was showing influences of Wagner, which was evident in his extended melodies and use of motifs (a recurring sequence of notes).

Zemlinsky relocated once again in 1927, this time to Berlin where he taught at the Academy of Music. The appointment gave him more time to compose and even make recordings. In 1930, the year after Ida’s death, Zemlinsky married Luise Sachsel, a singing student of his who was 29 years his junior. They would remain happily married until his death.

Zemlinsky moved to Vienna in 1899 to take up a position as Kapellmeister at that city’s Carltheater. By 1906 he was also principal conductor at the newly founded Volksoper where he conducted the first Viennese performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome and Puccini’s Tosca. In 1907 Zemlinsky married Ida Guttmann, but it was not to be a happy marriage. Four years later Zemlinsky established himself in Prague as the principal conductor at the Neues Deutsches Theater.

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With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Zemlinsky was unable to work in Berlin, so he opted to return to Vienna. Within five years, however, he made the decision to flee Europe and settle in the U.S. He received little recognition in his adopted country and remained largely unknown until his death in 1942. His opera, Der König Kandaules, was rejected by New York’s Metropolitan Opera because a nude scene was considered too shocking. That opera would finally premiere in Hamburg in 1996.

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A Florentine Tragedy: At a Glance Composed: 1915 – 1916

Premiere: January 30, 1917, Hoftheater, Stuttgart

Audience Reception: A Florentine Tragedy was received with mixed reviews, critics and audiences alike found the ending shocking.

Source Material: The libretto for A Florentine Tragedy was adapted by Alexander Zemlinsky from an unfinished play of the same name by famous Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde.

Language: German

Version Performed by COC: A new Canadian Opera Company production.

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Length Of PERFORMANCE: A Florentine Tragedy will be performed in the first half of the double-bill evening, running approximately 52 minutes followed by a 30-minute intermission. The evening will conclude with a performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


A Florentine Tragedy: Listening Guide Though not as famous as Mozart, Verdi or Puccini, Zemlinsky’s music stirs up emotions in an exceptional way. Instead of writing according to traditional forms, Zemlinsky’s score for A Florentine Tragedy can be best described as atmospheric. He achieves this through a technique called tone painting or musically describing the individual words or moods in the libretto. There is a constant feeling of impending tragedy in this opera, and an inner emotional turmoil that lies beneath a composed exterior. Overall, A Florentine Tragedy incorporates operatic writing (solos, duets for singers) with the light texture of chamber music (music for two or more instruments).

Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde, married to the great composer Schoenberg, had a torrid love affair with the Austrian painter Richard Gerstl. The affair ended when she returned to her husband and Gerstl committed suicide. Commentators often interpret the opera’s shocking ending in light of these biographical details, suggesting that Zemlinsky wanted to depict a catastrophic situation in which one life must be sacrificed for two others to be reunited and saved.

It is generally held that Zemlinsky was drawn to Oscar Wilde’s play not only because it is a well-crafted dramatic work, but because the complex triangular relationship at its heart resonated with him on a personal level:

Based on the recording A Florentine Tragedy, Naive, V4987. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Armin Jordan, conductor. Iris Vermillion, Viktor Lutsiuk, Albert Dohmen.

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The tracks listed below correspond to the complimentary A Florentine Tragedy Listening Guides CD, available with school group bookings only.

MUSICAL EXCERPT Simone: “So langsam, Weib?” (“My good wife, you come slowly?”) Connection to the Story Simone returns home unexpectedly to find his wife Bianca in the middle of a romantic tryst with Guido Bardi. To quell his suspicions, Simone pretends that Guido is a relative of Bianca’s before Guido introduces himself. Musical Significance The overture is followed by a series of short ariosi (short solos with free sung-spoken passages and more structured melodic phrases) by Simone with small interruptions by his wife Bianca and Guido. Zemlinsky immediately delineates Simone as the dominant figure in the love triangle by assigning him the largest musical passages. The texture of the music also hints at his character and state of mind: there’s a kind of tension in the orchestration which parallels Simone’s attempt to hide his suspicions about Guido. In contrast to this guarded sound associated with Simone, Guido’s music is much freer and displays youthful and energetic qualities.

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Bianca: “Wie er gleich einem schalen Krämer spricht!” (“How like a common man does he speak!”) Connection to the Story Bianca confides in Guido that she does not love her husband. Guido responds by saying Simone is not worthy of her. Simone enters immediately after Bianca wishes him dead. Musical Significance Bianca is a paradoxical character: on the one hand, she is all-important to the narrative by being the object of Simone and Guido’s rivalry, but on the other hand she remains passive and rarely speaks. In fact, she sings a mere 39 lines of text in the entire opera. Perhaps this is the composer’s way of suggesting that actions speak louder than words. Simone’s entrance begins with a musical motif that signifies death. (This “death motif” will recur throughout the opera.) As his suspicion of Guido’s intentions grows, the orchestra swells and recedes revealing his percolating hatred for his wife’s lover [1:17 – 2:11].

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Guido, Bianca: “Holdsel’ge Bianca” (“Sweet Bianca”) Connection to the Story Simone goes into the garden, leaving the lovers ardently planning their next tryst. Guido’s flattery of Bianca continues. Simone re-enters and sees the lovers gazing tenderly at one another. Musical Significance This is Guido and Bianca’s only exchange of love onstage in the entire opera. The music is tender, hazy and dreamlike, and the exotic quality of their love is evoked in the whole-tone scales in the orchestra, often associated with sounding “other-worldly” when used in Western classical music compositions. Listen how the composer “paints” the text: Guido’s excitement when he says “Ich werde morgen kommen” (“Tomorrow I will come”) [1:38 – 1:41] or the image evoked in the music when Bianca tells her lover, “O komm, bevor der Lerche schrilles Lied die Welt der Traumer weckt” (“Come before the lark with its shrill song has waked a world of dreamers”) [3:57 – 4:24].

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Simone, Bianca, Guido: “Ein Ritz, nichts mehr” (“A scratch, no more”) Connection to the Story Simone and Guido fight, and finally the older man grabs his wife’s lover by the throat and kills him. Over Guido’s body, Simone and Bianca see each other as they never have before and fall into each other’s arms. Musical Significance The duel is Zemlinsky’s version of a grand symphonic finale. The excitement of the duel is created with the opening roll of the timpani (low percussion or drums) and the fast tempo and rhythmic pulse of the orchestra. As Simone strangles Guido he sings a version of the death theme heard earlier in the opera [2:15 – 2:39]. The music gradually slows down, giving the listener the impression that Simone is squeezing the breath and music out of Guido until his body sinks to the floor. The opera concludes with Simone and Bianca singing in unison (the same melody) which musically demonstrates their reconciliation: she finds the strong lover in Simone that she was searching for and Simone’s affection for Bianca is rekindled, quite possibly because her affair with Guido has made Simone reconsider how desirable she really is.

Preliminary costume sketch for Guido Bardi for A Florentine Tragedy, by costume designer Terese Wadden

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A Florentine Tragedy: What to Look for Our spring double bill opens with Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy which director Catherine Malfitano has set in Florence during the Art Deco period (roughly between 1918 and 1930). Compare Art Deco to Art Nouveau, a slightly earlier artistic trend which employed flowing curves and intricate designs:

Art Deco is a style of decorative art marked by precise and bold geometric shapes. Its name originates from the French, art décoratif, a shorthand reference to the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs in Paris that showcased so many of the movement’s practitioners.

ART DECO

Left: This interior of the Hoover Building in London, England demonstrates the hallmarks of Art Deco design. Photo: Nick Garrod

ART NOUVEAU

Below: Art Nouveau interior circa 1900. Photo: Alexandre Prévot

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


Set Design The action takes place in a crumbling palazzo (a large, architecturally impressive building usually occupied by the wealthiest and most powerful members of society). This setting will also provide the physical shell for Gianni Schicchi, the second opera in this pairing. The massive arches which dominate the stage are a characteristic feature of Florentine Renaissance architecture (14th – 17th centuries). These arches signify the structure’s permanence and remind the audience that the palazzo has served as a home to many families over many centuries. Costumes This opera is a classic love triangle with only three characters: the merchant Simone, his wife Bianca and her lover, Guido Bardi. The Art Deco period produced many exquisite objets d’art – think of René Lalique’s iconic art glass creations or the stunning abstract textile designs of Sonia Delaunay – and in this context, Malfitano views Bianca as yet another beautifully designed product of the age. For her husband, Bianca is on the same level as the antiques which he buys and sells. As such, she is clothed in gorgeous, flowing night-coloured robes decorated with stylized silver roses – a fabric not unlike the precious textiles over which Guido rhapsodizes at one point in the score. In contrast, Simone is clothed in a more rough-hewn manner suited to his merchant status, entering the scene wearing a long leather overcoat. But like Bianca, his eye is not immune to luxury and at one point he dons a magnificent Renaissance-style robe which has previously been displayed on a mannequin in the couple’s Art Decostyled living area. Guido Bardi, who is a prince, is outfitted very much as a dandy, perhaps to indicate his somewhat shallow personality and monied status. Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca, holding Simone’s magnificent robe, in a scene from the COC’s A Florentine Tragedy, 2012. Photo: Chris Hutcheson.

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Fine arts Given the Florentine palazzo backdrop, the Art Deco setting, and the implied history that reaches back to the Renaissance, it’s not surprising that fine art plays not only a decorative, but also dramatic function in this staging. For example, a large portrait in which a man gazes out at the viewer in an unsettling, slightly threatening manner dominates the scene. In the painting, the subject is shown with his arm around a woman. The gesture implies a sense of entitled ownership. Also significant is the fact she is seen in profile and therefore cannot engage the viewer in the same direct manner offered to the male figure. Clearly the painting is much more than a pretty decoration when viewed in the context of the unhealthy, twisted relationships in this drama!

Lighting For A Florentine Tragedy, we are on the ground floor of the villa (versus Gianni Schicchi which takes place on the uppermost level of the palazzo). Notice the large French doors leading to a garden at stage right. This allows moonshine to illuminate the opera’s surprising “twist” ending, furnishing an appropriately enigmatic atmosphere for the conclusion of this rare musical gem.

Alan Held as Simone, Michael König as Guido Bardi and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the COC’s A Florentine Tragedy, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


Gianni Schicchi: Characters and Synopsis MAIN CHARACTERS Name Description Voice Type Pronunciation Gianni Schicchi A cunning newcomer in Florence Baritone DJAH-nee SKEE-kee Lauretta His daughter Soprano lao-REHT-tah Zita Cousin of Buoso Donati Alto DZEE-tah Rinuccio Zita’s nephew Tenor ree-NOO-choh Gherardo Buoso’s nephew Tenor geh-RAHR-doh Nella Gherardo’s wife Soprano NEHL-lah Gherardino Their son Treble geh-rahr-DEE-noh Betto di Signa Buoso’s brother-in-law Bass BEHT-toh dee SEE-nyah Simone Cousin of Buoso Bass see-MOH-neh Marco Simone’s son Baritone MAHR-coh La Ciesca Marco’s wife Mezzo-soprano La CHESS-kah Maestro Spinelloccio A doctor Bass spee-nehl-LOH-choh Ser Amantio di Nicolao A notary Bass ah-MAHN-tee-yoh dee nee-koh-LAH-oh Pinellino A cobbler Bass pee-nehl-LEE-noh Guccio A dyer Bass GOO-choh

Preliminary costume sketches for Zita and Simone for Gianni Schicchi, by costume designer Terese Wadden

Canadian Opera Company 2011/2012

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SYNOPSIS Buoso Donati’s family is gathered around the bed where he lies dead. Much to everyone’s horror, a rumour circulates that Donati has left his fortune to a monastery. The family’s only hope is to find Donati’s will before a lawyer does. They start hunting, turning the room upside down. Rinuccio hopes that some of the money will allow him to marry Lauretta, the dowry-less daughter of Gianni Schicchi. Feeling optimistic, he sends Gherardino to fetch Schicchi and his daughter. Zita opens the will and discovers that Donati has indeed left his fortune to the Church. Rinuccio declares that the only person who can help is Gianni Schicchi, who, though he’s a newcomer to Florence and not of their class, is a crafty, astute joker who might have a solution. Schicchi enters and agrees to try and help. As nobody outside the family – not even the servants – knows that Donati is dead, Schicchi sends Lauretta out to feed the birds while he poses as the dead man, now somewhat recovered. Spinelloccio, the doctor, visits and is assured

that his patient is better. Schicchi then sends Rinuccio for a notary to rewrite Donati’s will. The relatives argue over how to divide the fortune, but finally agree to leave it to Schicchi’s judgement. They individually make secret offers to him to benefit themselves, and Schicchi reminds them all that it is forbidden by law to interfere in the creation of a will. Rinuccio returns with the notary and two witnesses. Schicchi, as Donati, bequeaths a tiny sum to the monks, equal money and holdings to the relatives, but finally leaves the best mule, the house in Florence and his mills to “my dear friend, Gianni Schicchi.” The relatives are outraged but silenced. When the notary leaves, they attack Schicchi and plunder the house before being angrily expelled by him. Seeing Rinuccio and Lauretta, unaware of the chaos and blissfully happy now that they can marry, Schicchi asks the audience if Donati’s money could have served a better purpose.

Preliminary costume sketches for Lauretta and Rinuccio for Gianni Schicchi, by costume designer Terese Wadden

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Gianni Schicchi: Composer and Librettist Biographies Inspired early on in his career by Verdi and Wagner, Puccini began to explore new compositional territory with La fanciulla del West, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910.

COMPOSER BIOGRAPHY Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) Composer Giacomo Puccini was born on December 22, 1858 in Lucca, Italy, into a family that had been providing organists and composers to the city of Lucca for four generations. Following the family tradition, he started work as a professional organist at the age of 14.

This shift in style, which involved more innovative and challenging orchestration and harmonies, alluded to Debussy and Strauss and silenced some of his critics, who considered him incapable of artistic growth. Now he was hailed as the true heir of Verdi.

At the age of 18, upon attending a performance of Verdi’s Aida, he decided to follow a study of operatic composition. In 1880 Puccini began his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where one of his instructors was Amilcare Ponchielli (composer of the opera La Gioconda, 1876).

While working on La Rondine (1917) with librettist Giuseppe Adami, Puccini began composing his collection of three one-act operas, Il Trittico (The Triptych, 1918), which comprised Il Tabarro (The Cloak), Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) and Gianni Schicchi.

In 1882 Puccini entered his opera Le villi into a competition run by the publishing firm of Sonzogno. It didn’t win but it garnered the attention of the publisher Giulio Ricordi, with whom Puccini was to enjoy a lifelong association.

Puccini’s last work, Turandot, was unfinished when the composer died on November 29, 1924 in Brussels, Belgium, after a battle with throat cancer. This last work is usually performed today with the ending written by his disciple Franco Alfano.

Puccini’s first great success was Manon Lescaut, which premiered in Turin in 1893. His librettists were Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who were to work with him three more times, on La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

LIBRETTIST BIOGRAPHY Giovacchino Forzano (1884 – 1970)

La Bohème (1896) was not a great success when first produced, but has since become Puccini’s best-known work and one of the most loved and performed operas in the world. Tosca premiered successfully in Rome in 1900 and Madama Butterfly followed in 1904 at La Scala, at first disastrously, but was later revised and became a huge success. Audiences to this day love Puccini’s soaring impassioned orchestrations, dramatic intensity and beautiful melodies.

Born November 19, 1884 in Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy, Giovacchino Forzano studied medicine before beginning a short career as an operatic baritone. He returned to school to study law and then embarked on a career in journalism, contributing to several of Italy’s major newspapers.

There was a long break before his next premiere, partly due to a tragedy in his domestic life. Puccini had begun living with a married woman, Elvira Gemignani, and was only able to marry her himself when her first husband died. Their marriage was not an easy one and eventually Elvira accused Puccini of having an affair with a servant girl. The tension in the household became intolerable and the maid committed suicide. A court case determined that she had not had an affair with Puccini and Elvira was jailed for five months. The resulting publicity caused Puccini to withdraw for a while and also to separate from his wife. They later reconciled, but their marriage was damaged permanently.

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In 1914, he met Giacomo Puccini, who asked him to write libretti for his collection of three one-act operas, Il Trittico. Forzano agreed to write libretti for Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, while Giuseppe Adami wrote the libretto for Il Tabarro. Forzano also provided librettos for such composers as Franchetti, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, WolfFerrari and Giordano. From 1920 to 1930, Forzano served as a stage director at La Scala opera house in Milan, and later became a director of propaganda films for Mussolini and the National Fascist Party. In 1957, he published Come li ho conosciuti, a volume of memoirs regarding the composers he had collaborated with. Forzano also participated in several film documentaries that recalled his collaboration with Puccini on Gianni Schicchi. Forzano died on October 18, 1970 in Rome, Italy.

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Gianni Schicchi: At a Glance Composed: 1918

Premiere: December 14, 1918, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York as part of Puccini’s collection of three one-act operas, Il Trittico (The Tryptych).

Audience Reception: Gianni Schicchi was well received right from the start. This fast-paced comedy was a triumph for the composer, better known for his sentimental dramas. Source Puccini had been interested in writing a Material: triple bill since 1900, but his publisher, The libretto for Ricordi, was hoping to keep him Gianni Schicchi was focused on big story operas, which inspired by a passage would be more lucrative in the from The Inferno, the first long run. part of Dante Alighieri’s narrative poem, The Divine Comedy. Language: Italian

Version Performed by COC: A new Canadian Opera Company production.

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Length Of PERFORMANCE: Gianni Schicchi will be performed in the second half of the double-bill evening (after Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy), running approximately 52 minutes after a 30-minute intermission.

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


Gianni Schicchi: Listening Guide Gianni Schicchi is Puccini’s only comic opera and his only work in which the love story is of secondary importance to the overall plot. Despite the piece being such a departure for the composer, Gianni Schicchi proved to be the most successful of the three operas that comprise Il Trittico (the other two being Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica) and today it continues to be performed not only as part of the triptych but also as a stand-alone work or part of a double bill (two one-act operas).

The tracks listed below correspond to the complimentary Gianni Schicchi Listening Guides CD, available with school group bookings only. Based on the recording Il Trittico, Decca 478 0341. Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bruno Bartoletti, conductor. Mirella Freni, Leo Nucci, Juan Pons, Roberto Alagna.

Gianni Schicchi pokes fun at family rivalries and old social establishments. Puccini’s librettist, Giovacchino Forzano, does this by portraying each character as an archetype (stereotypical character) rooted in commedia dell’arte, the tradition of Italian improvisational theatre of the 16th and 17th centuries. The absurdity and comedic quality of characters is perpetuated by their lust for money and concern with maintaining their high social status. Puccini enhances these spirited and ridiculous characters with his skillfully crafted score, punctuated by, for lack of a better term, “musical jokes.”

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Some of the stock characters in traditional commedia dell’arte include a bumbling know-it-all doctor, lovers, comedic servants and a greedy man of status. Actors traditionally performed in half-masks that highlighted the personalities of their roles (i.e. thinner and longer noses for wily characters) and had a predetermined set of poses for portraying their characters.

MUSICAL EXCERPT Rinuccio, aria: “Firenze è come un albero fiorito” (“Florence is like a tree in flower”) Connection to the Story Rinuccio admires the beauty of Florence, a city which offers great opportunity for newcomers like the wily Gianni Schicchi. Musical Significance Rinuccio’s ode to Florence and all of its glories is captured in this delightful folk-like tune. The piece is in the form of a Tuscan folksong called a stornello. It is in ABA form: a melody begins the piece [0:00 – 0:34], followed by a different theme [0:36 – 1:06] with the original melody returning near the end [1:07 – 2:09]. The “A” melody resembles a festive march while the “B” section hints at characters and images yet to come in the opera. Puccini makes a musical nod to Rinuccio’s love interest, Lauretta, by including a short passage from her famous melody “O mio babbino caro” (“O my beloved daddy”) [0:35 – 0:45] and evoking the Arno River in the swirling strings, which reappear in her aria (solo) later on. This piece rejoices in all the greatness of Florence and celebrates generations of Florentines responsible for cultural advances in arts and sciences, including Giotto (Italian painter and architect), the Medici family (patrons of the arts) and, of course, chief among them (to the horror of Rinuccio’s family), the one and only Gianni Schicchi. Further Reflection What is your favourite place in the world? Why is it important to you? How would you pay tribute to it?

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Lauretta, aria: “O mio babbino caro” (“O my beloved daddy”) Connection to the Story Lauretta begs her father to help Rinuccio and his family obtain their share of Buoso Donati’s fortune, so that she and Rinuccio can marry. Musical Significance Lauretta’s aria, as a stand-alone piece, has a history of moving people to tears with its heart-wrenching melody, but in the context of the opera, it is more tongue-in-cheek and comic, blending sentimentalism with outlandish threats as Lauretta appeals to her father. The whirling orchestral accompaniment evokes the Arno River and the leaps in her melodic line mirror her exaggerated threats (like jumping off the Ponte Vecchio bridge into the Arno River if her father doesn’t consent to her marrying Rinuccio). Further Reflection Think of a time when your parent, sibling, family member or friend disapproved of one of your decisions. How did you try to convince them that your decision was the right one?

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Ensemble and trio: “Ecco la cappellina” (“Here is the night-cap”) Connection to the Story The relatives agree to entrust Gianni Schicchi with disbursing Buoso Donati’s will. Before the lawyer arrives to oversee the rewriting of the will, the family dress up Schicchi as Buoso and each of the relatives bribes Schicchi to leave them the most valuable goods. Musical Significance The comedy continues in this short ensemble and trio. Zita, Simone, Betto, Nella and La Ciesca each take turns offering Schicchi their bribe in a sotto voce (half or soft voice) declamatory style. The speed of their “bribes” is quick and soft, almost mumbled, so other family members can’t hear their scheming. Schicchi doesn’t need to hear every single word from them anyway, as he accepts each offer without much care or hesitation (“sta bene” or “very well”), knowing that he has no intention of helping them acquire Donati’s most prized possessions. The swirling chromatic figures of the viola emphasize the underlying scheming of the family members throughout this passage. The second part of the excerpt is a beautiful trio but, more accurately, it’s a musical “sucking up” to Gianni Schicchi [1:03]. While Nella, Zita and La Ciesca help Schicchi get dressed in Buoso Donati’s night clothes, they coo at him with their melodramatic and luscious melody, and flatter him with endearing words like “bambolino” (“baby boy”) and “nostro salvator” (“our saviour”).

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


Further Reflection A will is a legal document that specifies how, and to whom, belongings should be divided after a person’s passing. All of these family members are trying to get a portion of Buoso Donati’s fortune. To whom would you leave your possessions? What would you leave them and why?

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MUSICAL EXCERPT Lauretta and Rinuccio, duet: “Lauretta mia, staremo sempre qui” (“My Lauretta, we shall always stay here”) Connection to the Story The two lovers, Lauretta and Rinuccio, are finally united and rejoice that they will forever remain in Florence. Gianni Schicchi begs the audience’s forgiveness for having pulled his prank, citing “extenuating circumstances.” Musical Significance Lauretta and Rinuccio express their love and hope for a promising future in this whimsical duet. It serves as a perfect light-hearted contrast to the heavy plotting and scheming in the rest of the opera. But Forzano and Puccini return the opera to its original comedic intentions and give Schicchi the last word. Schicchi addresses the audience, reminding them through speech, as opposed to song, that for this prank he will be sent to hell (referencing Dante’s The Divine Comedy, one of the sources for this opera). But he hopes that the audience might consider pardoning his devious ways if he has been entertaining enough. Puccini’s final musical punchline is delivered through the irony of the clarinets and the rest of the orchestra punctuating Schicchi’s epilogue by echoing Rinuccio’s ode to the great men of Florence [1:47 – 1:53, 1:58 – 2:05]. Further Reflection An epilogue is a concluding section of a theatrical or literary work in which a performer addresses the audience and either summarizes the main action or recounts the ultimate fate of the characters. This is an unusual way to end an opera. What effect does Gianni Schicchi’s final scene have on the audience? The opera?

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Gianni Schicchi: What to Look for Gianni Schicchi serves as a perfect comedic foil for the dramatic storyline and emotions of A Florentine Tragedy. In terms of drama and music, the operas are quite dissimilar, but their themes of questionable human behaviour make these two works complementary explorations of the temptations of sin. Unity of design is used to underscore this cohesion. A Florentine Tragedy transitions seamlessly into Gianni Schicchi with partially costumed stage crew resetting the stage. The transition becomes part of the story as the visible stage crew essentially become hired “movers� who move the Bardi family out and the Donati family in. These clever staging and design choices make the passing of time from the Art Deco era to the late 20th century more believable.

The Setting While the palazzo and its massive arches emphasize the traditional Florentine setting, the props and costumes place the story of Gianni Schicchi in a modern era. The contemporary time period responds to current taste which, according to director Catherine Malfitano, requires a sharper, more intense and hard-hitting approach to entertainment. In addition, the story of families squabbling over family wealth is a subject not uncommon in today’s society. Modernizing the story through the design reveals its relevance. Unlike A Florentine Tragedy, which takes place on the bottom floor of the palazzo, Gianni Schicchi takes place on the top floor, the floor with the most breathtaking view of Florence. However, for the majority of the opera a large transparent sheet is hung across the back windows preventing the audience from seeing the brilliant skyline. At the climax of the opera the sheet is pulled down and the audience can finally experience the full beauty, light and splendour of Florence.

The iconic Duomo of Florence

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Costumes Both operas deal with personalities who embody one, or a combination of, the seven deadly sins (wrath, greed, sloth, envy, pride, lust, gluttony). These traits are reflected in the characters’ actions but also in their costumes. How would you define each character based on their appearance and actions? Gianni Schicchi is a Renaissance man and represents rebirth and deviation from the traditional way of thought. He is dressed casually in contrast to the characters in the Donati family. The sun and light are metaphors for Schicchi. Notice how this is shown through his attire. Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta, is coy, feminine and plays the role of the innocent damsel. Her costume reflects a girlish immaturity. Yet her outer appearance is a great

cover for her true manipulative behaviour. She uses her femininity, softness, and flirtatiousness to her advantage. Rinuccio, like Schicchi, represents the new era of Florentine men. His costume is dark and tailored like the rest of his family, but he wears it more casually, without a tie and his shirt slightly unbuttoned, aligning him with his idol, Gianni Schicchi. Buoso’s cousins, Zita and Simone, represent the “old world” Italians, who always dress exquisitely, regardless of the occasion. Zita embodies the world of experience and vanity. A woman of classic style, she wears a matching tweed suit, a sleek purse, appropriately sized heels with her hair swept up in a chic updo. Simone wears a dapper suit, complementing Zita’s style. However, both are slightly outdated and off-kilter, as Simone pairs his suit with

A scene from the COC’s Gianni Schicchi, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper

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runners, and Zita’s heels are accessorized with a cane – perhaps signs of an older generation fraying at the edges in the face of the modernity of new Florence.

Gherardo, Nella, Marco, La Ciesca, and Gherardino symbolize the new generation of Florentines. All four wear the most current fashion trends and styles.

Betto di Signa’s costume emphasizes his distance from the rest of the family. As Buoso’s brother-in-law, he is an outsider amongst Buoso’s blood relatives. He wears a mismatched suit with colours – black and navy – that don’t really fit together.

Spinelloccio, Ser Amantio di Nicolao, Pinellino, and Guccio are men of labour and work. Their costumes reinforce their characters and their professions.

A scene from the COC’s Gianni Schicchi, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper

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A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide


The COC offers a wide variety of school programs for Kindergarten to Grade 12. To find out more, visit our website at coc.ca/Explore or contact: Education & Outreach Canadian Opera Company Tel: 416-306-2392 Fax: 416-363-5584 education@coc.ca A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi Study Guide editors: Katherine Semcesen, Associate Director, Education and Outreach; Nikita Gourski, Development Communications Assistant; Suzanne Vanstone, Senior Communications Manager, Editorial; Gianna Wichelow, Senior Communications Manager, Creative; Carly Anderson, Children & Youth Programs Manager The COC Gratefully Acknowledges:

Charitable Registration Number: 11883 4829 RR0001

Above: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Sam Javanrouh

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A Florentine Tragedy & Gianni Schicchi Study Guide  

Study guide for the 2011/2012 Canadian Opera Company’s double-bill production of Alexander Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy and Giacomo Pucc...

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