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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi - opera in one act (1918)
Gianni Schicci, Alberto Rinaldi (bar); Lauretta, Tatiana Lisnic (sop); Rinuccio, Stafano Secco (ten); Zita, Mabel Perelstein (alto); Simone, Felipe Bou (bass); Gherado, Gerardo Lopez (ten); Nella, Sara Galli, (sop); Betto di Signa, José Quijada (bass); Marco, Celestino Varela (bar); La Ciesca, Claudia Marchi (mezzo); A doctor, Carlos Ruiz (bass); A notary, Javier Zorilla (bar); Pinellino and Guccio, Antonio Torres (bass)
Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Recorded at the Sala Carranque, Malaga, 5, 8 April 2002
Bargain Price
NAXOS 8.660111 [48.20]


Rather like his great predecessor, Verdi, Puccini’s last completed operatic work (he died during the composition of Turandot leaving it incomplete) was a comic opera. Gianni Schicchi was the last of three one act works that comprise ‘Il Trittico’. They were intended by the composer for performance together. The three operas received their premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, on December 18th 1918. Later, to Puccini’s chagrin, the operas, particularly Gianni Schicci, were often performed separately, often in conjunction with a short opera by another composer.

The story of Gianni Schicchi is set in medieval Florence. Buoso has died leaving his property, in a will, to a nearby Monastery. His relatives contrive to have a new will drawn up with Gianni Schicchi impersonating the dead man. At first, offended by the attitude towards him of some of Buoso’s relatives, Schicchi refuses (tr. 7). He is only persuaded by his daughter Lauretta in the famous, but brief, aria ‘O mio babbino caro’ (tr. 8) as she has an interest in marrying the dead man’s nephew Rinuccio. Schicchi first warns everybody of the dire consequences to all if the deception is discovered (tr. 13) and a notary is summoned. The relatives dress Schicchi in Buoso’s nightgown and nightcap, each quietly trying to bribe him if he favours them. The notary arrives and Schicchi, disguising his voice to sound like Buoso, dictates a will leaving all the dead man’s property to himself (tr. 14). The relatives are incensed but powerless, out of fear of discovery of the deception. On the notary’s departure they berate Schicchi and grab what they can (tr. 15). At the conclusion Gianni Schicchi gives the house to the two young lovers, Lauretta and Rinuccio, and as they embrace sings ‘Could there be a better ending than this’.

The compositional style of the opera is utterly different to Tosca, Bohème and Butterfly with their set-piece arias and duets etc. It is altogether more seamless with a lot of interplay going on at the same time among the relatives. Without tight control it can all sound more like a jangling cacophony than an opera. In his taut musical control of the proceedings Rahbari is really excellent. He never lets the orchestra get too loud, keeping good co-ordination between stage and pit whilst exacting pinpoint articulation all round. An open and airy acoustic and good balance help the performance come over with appropriate verve. Of the singers, the young lovers are excellent with Tatiana Lisnic as Lauretta shaping her aria with graceful phrasing and concluding it ever so softly. It comes over as part of an opera not a mere showpiece (tr. 8). Stafano Secco as Rinuccio fields an ardent, secure, lyric tenor voice with a nice touch of Italianate ‘squilla’ to his tone (tr. 6). As Gianni Schicchi, the veteran Alberto Rinaldi who debuted at La Scala in 1966, is variable. He characterises well but shows some signs of wear and spread in the upper voice (tr. 11) and lacks an ideally steady legato. The relatives are a reliable bunch vocally except for some discernable wobble from Sara Galli as Nella (tr. 12). Antonio Torres singing the small parts of Pinellino and Guccio, is a voice to look out for (end of tr. 15).

A measure of lively ensemble interplay comes through quite clearly and is a major part of the success of the enterprise. It perhaps indicates that the recording was made in association with a series of live performances. Together with the fine modern sound and bargain price this makes for a very appealing disc. Tito Gobbi’s outstanding first recording of Schicchi (EMI) is now sonically rather dated, whilst on his second (Sony) his tone is somewhat thin; further Maazel’s conducting is not particularly idiomatic. The RCA recording with Panerai is a good all-round performance but, to my ears, not very Italianate, a strength here. The booklet has a good background note, an excellent track-related synopsis and artist profiles, in English and German. There is a full libretto without translation.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Robert McKechnie


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