This production of Gianni Schicchi is hugely enjoyable. All the more so because I saw the Glyndebourne production a few years ago and was distinctly underwhelmed. This 2004 production from Paris brings out all the elements of Puccini's music that makes his larger-scale operas so popular. We have the big tunes and the unashamed tugging at the audience's emotions. But here Puccini's emotional bag of tricks is used in the context of a comedy so that it seems that he is deliberately sending himself up.
The story concerns a rich old man who dies leaving all his possessions to the local monastery. His outraged relatives persuade Gianni Schicchi, a Florentine Jack-the-lad to impersonate the dead man and to dictate a new will. The opera contains perhaps the most famous soprano aria in the entire operatic canon: O Mio Babbino Caro. Every soprano does it but, when you hear it out of context, O My Beloved Daddy sounds rather slushy. In context, it is an aria sung by Schicchi's foxy daughter Lauretta in order to get her own way. As Lauretta, Patrizia Ciofi displays a surprising talent for comedy ands sends up the music something rotten.
The opera has a cast of 15 soloists, which is quite something for a piece that lasts less than one hour. Puccini delineates the characters of the scheming relatives with a beautiful economy and it is noticeable how, in this production, the cast's movements are choreographed almost as if it were a ballet. My favourite moment is where Alessandro Corbelli, as Schicchi, is warning the avaricious relatives that they must keep mum about what has happened because the penalty for forging a will is to have your hand cut off and to be banished from Florence. He sings one of Puccini's most beautiful melodies "Adieu Firenze". If you heard it on the radio, and you had an imperfect understanding of Italian, you would swear that he was conjuring some deep emotion. In fact he is singing "Farewell Florence, I wave goodbye with this stump".
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