Special Sub-Topic: Puccini's "Il Trittico"
|Which of the three operas was the first to be conceived and composed?|
"Il Tabarro". In 1912, Puccini attended a performance of Didier Gold's melodramatic play "La Houppelande" ("The Cloak"). He found the play immensely effective and wanted to make a one-act opera out of it, but decided that it needed something different to contrast with. He began work on "Tabarro" in 1915; two years later, the librettist Forzano approached him with the ideas for "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi".
|Which "Trittico" opera was Puccini's favorite of all his operas?|
"Suor Angelica". Puccini idolised nothing more than feminine suffering and Angelica, shut away in a convent after bringing disgrace on her noble family by having an illegitimate child whom she later learns has died, was especially close to his heart. He once said that he "would willingly trade all of 'Gianni Schicchi' for a single note of 'Angelica'", and was greatly upset when, after the Covent Garden premiere, it was omitted to make for a shorter evening. Few people agree with Puccini's assessment of this work and many, in fact, regard it as his weakest opera. However, there is no doubt that, in the hands of the right performer (such as Puccini's favorite, Gilda Dalla Rizza, German soprano Lotte Lehmann or, more recently, Renata Scotto and Teresa Stratas), it can be powerfully moving.
|Where does "Il Tabarro" take place?|
Paris. The action of "Tabarro" takes place on a barge, belonging to Michele and his wife, Giorgietta, moored at a bend in the Seine. Michele is the "padrone" of a group of stevedores.
|What does "Il Tabarro" mean?|
"The Cloak". "Tabarro" refers to the cloak, literal and figurative, worn by Michele. He disguises his feelings throughout the opera, much to Giorgietta's dismay; at one point, she says that she would rather be beaten by him than endure his silences. He tells Giorgietta that "everyone wears a cloak that sometimes hides happiness, sometimes sadness." In the end, it is Michele's cloak which hides the body of Luigi, whom Michele has strangled after discovering that he is Giorgietta's lover.
|What tragedy does Giorgietta, the heroine of "Tabarro", have in common with Suor Angelica?|
The death of a child. The death of Giorgietta and Michele's child, years earlier, seems to have been the catalyst for the emotional distance which now exists between them.
|At one point in "Il Tabarro", a street singer performs a song about the sad story of a woman who bears the same name as another Puccini opera heroine. Who is she?|
Mimi. "La storia di Mimi" is performed by a "song-seller" as a counterpoint to an argument between Giorgietta and her husband. In the song, Mimi dies (like her operatic counterpart) waiting for her absent lover, who never returns.
|What is the name of La Frugola's cat?|
Caporale. Frugola, the rag-picker, sings a brief arietta about her spoiled cat, Caporale (Corporal) for whose supper she has scavenged a beef heart.
|In his monologue, "Nulla. Silencio", Michele wonders which of the men is Giorgietta's lover. Why does he dismiss Luigi from suspicion, even though he is the likeliest (and in fact correct) suspect?|
Because Luigi had earlier asked to be left ashore at Rouen. Earlier in the opera, Luigi, to Michele's amazement, had asked to be left ashore at Rouen. Michele talked him out of this, telling him that he would only find misery and poverty there. Luigi had wanted to get away, unable to bear having to share Giorgietta with Michele any longer.
|Now to "Suor Angelica". How many years has Angelica been in the convent?|
Seven. During the interview with the Zia Principessa, Angelica is informed that her younger sister Anna Viola, who was little more than a child when she left, is getting married. She ruefully remarks "Ah!...son sett' anni! Son passati sett' anni!" ("Ah!...seven years! Seven years have passed!")
|In what part of the convent does Angelica work?|
The herb garden. Angelica's duties are to tend the garden and create healing ointments and medicines from the herbs and flowers. It is from some of these herbs that she eventually brews the poison with which she commits suicide.
|What "miracle", which occurs each year at about the time the opera takes place, are the nuns anticipating?|
The fountain's water turns to gold. The "miracle of the golden water" occurs when the sun, for three days in May, strikes the fountain in such a way that the water appears golden. The nuns are aware, of course, that this is an optical illusion; nevertheless, they are grateful for this beautiful sight and consider it a miracle.
|During what month does the opera take place?|
May. The nuns sing "E Maggio! E Maggio" ("It's May! It's May!") in anticipation of the miracle of the golden water.
|One of the sisters is constantly teased by the others for her fondness for good food. Which aptly-named nun is she?|
Suor Dolcina. Suor Dolcina (her name means "little sweet") is especially fond of walnuts and ripe fruit. The nuns warn her that gluttony is a deadly sin, but they share in her delight when the alms-gathering sisters return with a branch of ripe currants.
|What has been seen by the alms-gathering nuns that leads Angelica to believe that she is being visited by one of her family?|
A richly appointed coach. Angelica becomes extremely excited when the sisters, returning from gathering alms, mention that a fine coach, no doubt belonging to a noble family, is in front of the convent. She asks for details about the coat of arms and the colors. The other sisters, led by Suor Genovieffa, pray that Angelica may receive good news from her family, from whom she has been longing to hear.
|What is the purpose of the Zia Principessa's (Angelica's aunt's) visit?|
She needs Angelica's signature on a document. The Zia Principessa has made a change in the estate of her late sister and brother-in-law on account of the impending marriage of Angelica's sister. We are not told what change or changes have been made. She tells Angelica of her sister's upcoming marriage only by way of explanation, and does not appear inclined to tell her anything of her child at all, until Angelica practically shames her into doing so.
|How long ago did Angelica's child die?|
Two years previously. The Zia Principessa, after Angelica finally persuades her to speak about the child, informs her that two years ago, he had contracted a raging fever and that everything possible had been done to save him. Angelica guesses the rest, and collapses on the ground in an agony of grief.
|Before drinking the poison she has brewed, to which two things does Angelica bid farewell? |
The nuns and the convent chapel. Angelica bids farewell to her beloved fellow nuns (from whom, apparently, she has received more affection than from her own family), and to the chapel. It is from this chapel, at the end of the opera, that she will see the miraculous vision of her child (in most productions, however, this is wisely left to the audience's imagination and the acting skill of the soprano performing the role; Scotto was especially convincing here).
|Finally, "Gianni Schicchi". This opera is based on an actual person who appears in Dante's "Divina Commedia". Where in the book does he appear?|
"L'Inferno". The rascal Schicchi, who impersonated the dead Buoso Donati and bilked the Donati family out of their inheritance, is in the Inferno, of course. Since Dante's wife was of the Donati family, he no doubt felt warmly in the matter. It is interesting to note, however, that Buoso also appears in "L'Inferno".
|Who is the oldest (surviving) member of the Donati family?|
Simone. The family frequently turn to Simone for advice since, as they continually remind him, he is the eldest and was once the Podesta (mayor) of Fucecchio. When, however, Simone later cites these two facts to suggest that it is he who should inherit the bulk of Buoso's estate, Zita indignantly replies "Se tu se' vecchio, peggio per te!" ("If you're so old, the worse for you!").
|What objection does the Donati family chiefly have against Rinuccio marrying Schicchi's daughter Lauretta?|
Her father is of peasant stock and she has no dowry. The Donati family, particularly Zita, despise the low-born Schicchi, who married into a family of "nouveau" rich; they will not hear of Rinuccio marrying his daughter without a sizable dowry.
|As Gianni is about to leave in disgust, refusing to help the Donati reclaim their inheritance, Lauretta, Schicchi's daughter, steps forward and sings the beautiful aria "O Mio Babbino Caro". Along with "Un Bel Di" and "Musetta's Waltz", this is definitely one of the three most well-known and widely performed of Puccini's soprano arias. What is Lauretta actually singing about?|
Her desire to marry handsome Rinuccio and buy a gorgeous ring. Few people realize that this beautiful aria is not a love song, but Lauretta's plea to her "dear daddy" ("Babbino caro") to do something to fix the will, so that she and Rinuccio can go to Porta Rossa, on the Ponte Vecchio, and buy a wedding ring. Of her intended, Rinuccio, she says "Mi piace, e bello, bello!" ("I like him, he's so handsome!"). Her only allusion to love is when she sings "E se l'amassi indarno, andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!" ("If I were to love him in vain, I would go to the Ponte Vecchio, but only to throw myself in the Arno!"). Basically, Lauretta is your typical spoiled "princess" who knows how to get around dear ol' dad (Only she sings so well!).
|What are the three most coveted items Donati owned, which everyone hopes to inherit?|
The house in Florence, the mule, and the sawmills at Signa. The Florence house was Buoso's principal residence, and his most luxurious. A good, sturdy mule was the Italian Rennaisance equivalent of a luxury automobile and the sawmills at Signa are, no doubt, a veritable gold mine. Everyone wants these three items quite badly.
|Before the notaries arrive to draw up "Buoso's" new will and testament (which will, of course, be dictated by Schicchi impersonating the dead man), Schicchi warns the family of the dire penalty for the type of fraud they are about to perpetrate. What is this penalty? |
Amputation of one hand and exile. Schicchi goes on to lead them in singing "Addio, Firenze" ("I wave goodbye with this stump"), which he will reprise later to keep them in line after he has willed himself the prize items of Buoso's estate.
|At the end, in a spoken epilogue, Schicchi acknowledges that for his act, Dante has placed him in Hell. However, he asks this favor of his audience.|
A plea of extenuating circumstances. Schicchi asks the audience, gesturing towards the love-struck Lauretta and Rinuccio, if Buoso's money could possibly have been put to better use. With all due respect to the great master Dante, he asks (making a gesture of applause) for a plea of extenuating circumstances.
|The three soprano roles in "Il Trittico" have, on occasion, been sung by one soprano. Which of the following has not, at any point in her career, sung all three roles in one performance?|
Mirella Freni. Scotto sang all three roles in the late seventies at the Met to great acclaim (her Angelica was particularly admired); the performance was telecast. Stratas repeated this feat in the early nineties and, despite some flawed vocalism, her work was much admired (she reprised Giorgietta for a subsequent opening night gala with Domingo). Sills performed all three roles in a New York City Opera production in the late sixties. This was shortly after her autistic son was institutionalized; under the circumstances, she found Angelica to be a wrenching emotional ordeal and never sang the role again. Freni, despite her long and distinguished association with Puccini's operas, has steered clear of "Trittico" for much the same reason as Sills; she finds Angelica to be too devastating. She has, however, recorded Angelica's moving aria "Senza Mamma" as well as the famous "O Mio Babbino Caro", which she has also frequently performed in concert.
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