Zanetto and Gianni Schicchi, a great double bill
“She is the most beautiful, when you’re caressed by her velvet eyes love conquers you,” declares Zanetto – the eponymous character of Pietro Mascagni’s late 19th century opera – to the lady before him, unaware that she is in fact Sylvia, the famous beauty Zanetto wants to find.
Pietro Mascagni’s sixth opera, which premiered in 1896, tells the story of the rich and widely admired Sylvia, who finds her potential suitors unsuitable and accepts her fate to live a loveless life until a young wanderer appears who manages to captivate her heart. Zanetto however, unaware of her true identity refers to her as an “older sister” breaking her heart before enquiring about the whereabouts of the famous beauty Sylvia. Despite being shocked by the developments, Sylvia manages to keep her identity a secret, discouraging the traveller from pursuing her in an emotional confrontation saying: “Zanetto, if I seem emotional it’s because I love you like a child who needs saving.” Touched by her sincerity, he heeds her advice and leaves after asking for a memento to remember their meeting.
The opera is followed by Gianni Schicchi, where the titular character deceives the family and takes away their recently deceased father’s most valuable possessions: A mule, mill of Signa and the house.
The relatives gather at Buoso Donati’s house during his final few breaths, not out of love but for the contents of the will that they hope is in their favour. The will, however, states that everything has been left to a monastery, hampering Rinuccio’s dream of marrying the titular character’s daughter, Laurette, after Zita (Rinuccio’s aunt) promised to allow the wedding despite considering the Schicchi household to be beneath them. The two quarrelling households end up being in cahoots, after Schicchi reveals a plan to overrule Buoso’s will by pretending to be him and deceiving the lawyer into making a new one that would include all the family members instead of the monastery. The family quarrel over the rightful inheritance of Buoso’s mule, mill of Signa and the house before leaving the decision at the hands of Gianni Schicchi. At the presence of the lawyer, Gianni Schicchi, pretending to be Buoso, shares the inheritance equally among the family members, but when it comes to the three main acquisitions which, according to the family are “the bunch to pick”, Gianni Schicchi reminds them of the Florentine law – that would exile anyone from the city if found guilty of tampering with a will – before claiming them for himself to the disbelief of the Donatis. Schicchi’s shrewdness finally brings Laurette and Rinuccio together and the opera ends with Gianni breaking the fourth wall asking for the audiences to approve with his scheme.
Pietro Mascagni’s tragedy opera Zanetto is a masterpiece in its own right but without the complementary follow up by the comical Gianni Schicchi, the audience’s response in the end would not have been as grand and appreciative as it was when the entire cast and the orchestra bowed down to end the night.
The beginning of Zanetto left a lot to be desired with the actors accompanied by the a cappella harmony that seemed distant from the action on stage. It felt as if someone had turned up the volume of a radio while watching the TV muted. The debacle, however, was only short-lived as Manlio Benzi led the orchestra into the scene and perfectly synchronised with the belting vocals of Janice Watson as she portrayed the lonesome Sylvia.
Gianni Schicchi provided plenty of laughter for the audiences lifting the audience’s mood following the emotional drama prior to the interval. The cast’s synchronised head movements whilst reading the will is certainly one of the better comical moments of the night, but the finest musical moment comes when Gianni Schicchi is dividing the inheritance among the Donati’s family. The satisfactory response to the will forms a perfect harmony with the low-pitched vocals of Gianni Schicchi performed by Alan Opie. The final scene where Schicchi asks a rhetorical question to the audience while Laurette and Rinuccio embrace each other opens a door to a loud round of applause and appreciative whistles which the act truly deserves.
Zanetto and Gianni Schicchi is a recommended opera show albeit the audience’s experience. What few shortcomings the first half has is compensated for by the wit, synchronised acting and the exaggerated movements during the second half of the evening. By the end of the show, they will win your heart.