On Monday, I’m recording two of my absolutely favorite arias. I’ll show both here, but I want to give some introduction on each. First up is Rinuccio’s aria “Avete torto” (or “Firenze è come un albero fiorito”) from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
Love of City…and Everyone in it
In Florence, the Donati family has just been disinherited from Buoso Donati’s will, and they’re desperate to find some solution. Rinuccio is in love with Lauretta, and he suggests asking for help from her father Gianni Schicchi. The family, his aunt Zita in particular, responds negatively and makes disparaging remarks because Schicchi is one of the “new people”. Rinuccio bursts with the aria’s first line “Avete torto!” (”You’re wrong!”)*.
È fine! astuto…
Ogni malizia di leggi e codici
conosce e sa.
C’è da fare una beffa nuova e rara?
È Gianni Schicchi che la prepara!
Gli occhi furbi gli illuminan di riso lo strano viso,
ombreggiato da quel suo gran nasone che pare un torrachione per così!
Vien dal contado?
Ebbene? Che vuol dire?
Basta con queste ubbie… grette e piccine!
He’s refined! astute…
Every trick of laws and codices
he knows and knows intimately.
Is there a new new and rare joke to be played?
It’s Gianni Schicchi who prepares it!
His cunning eyes light up with laughter his strange face,
shaded by that great nose of his which seems like a huge, isolated tower — like this!
He comes from the countryside?
Well? What does that mean?
Enough of these narrow-minded and petty prejudices!
After defending Gianni, Rinuccio goes into a love song about the Florence of 1299:
|Firenze è come un albero fiorito
che in piazza dei Signori ha tronco e fronde,
ma le radici forze nuove apportano
dalle convalli limpide e feconde!
E Firenze germoglia ed alle stelle
salgon palagi saldi e torri snelle!
L’Arno, prima di correre alla foce,
ben venga Arnolfo a far la torre bella!
E venga Giotto dal Mugel selvoso,
e il Medici mercante coraggioso!
Basta con gli odi gretti e coi ripicchi!
Viva la gente nova e Gianni Schicchi!
|Florence is like a blossoming tree
which has its trunk and branches in the Piazza dei Signori;
but the roots bring forth new vitalities
from the limpid and fertile valleys!
And Florence grows; and staunch palaces
and slender towers rise up to all the stars!
The Arno, before running to its mouth,
And down from the castles of the Val d’Elsa
His exuberance is charming, and Puccini’s treatment of the text is enchanting.
Keeping it Local
The main tune is based on a stornello, which is a type traditional song from the Tuscan region. You can hear the similarities between the aria and this stornello:
This folk connection immediately grounds the aria and gives it a sense of energy and forward momentum. Combined with the names and images of the text, it establishes the love of Florence that becomes so central to the plot. But the folk-tune is only a base from which to build.
Use of Tone Painting and Motives
Puccini tone paints liberally in portions of the aria. During the stanza that begins with “L’Arno, prima” Puccini uses a chromatic rolling figure in the bass to suggest the Arno rolling through the busy city. The Desbussy-esque parallel motion and modal sounding chordal movement** in the orchestra suggests the late Medieval tributaries singing in chorus with the river. The growing city is described musically through numerous changes of orchestration and horn calls.
He also uses themes and motives to connect the aria to the rest of the opera. Lauretta’s melody, from the intoxicating “O mio babbino caro”, makes its first appearance after Rinuccio imagines the slender towers climbing towards the stars. It’s a wonderful moment that says just as much about Rinuccio’s motivation as any of his words.
Gianni Schicchi himself has two main motives that appear frequently in the aria***. One is the motive that is used to say his name:
This motive is used primarily in the opening portion describing the qualities of Gianni Schicchi. It is used both in the voice and in orchestra. But this gives way to a more important motive:
This motive is first heard on “Motteggiatore! Beffegiatore!”, which implies that it is the more fun and exciting of the motives. Sure enough, after Schicchi’s impersonation triumph, it’s the last motive we hear in the opera.
The Big Ending
The aria winds steadily towards the end where Rinuccio sings two high Bbs on the words “Gianni Schicchi”. I first heard of this aria from my undergraduate diction teacher Grayson Hirst who emphasized the challenge of keeping the “eee” sound pure that high in the voice. It takes some work, but it’s a terrific ending for the aria. The singer gets a moment on the high note all to himself before the orchestra swells with the “Gianni Schicchi Motive 2”.
Oddly though, regardless of the singer’s quality, the aria usually receives no applause. Puccini never gives it the chance. The orchestra continues to play until Schicchi’s and Lauretta’s entrance, and soon the aria is forgotten as the captivating character of Gianni Schicchi takes over.
Watch a performance of the aria yourself and see what you think. Rinuccio here is Massimo Giordano and the conductor is James Levine:
** For more comparison of the composers’ works, see Portrait of Debussy. 4: Debussy and Puccini by Mosco Carner
*** The terms “Gianni Schicchi motive” 1 and 2 are totally my invention for the convenience of writing this.