Opera Profile: Puccini’s ‘Il Trittico’

By Logan Martell

“Il Trittico (The Triptych)” is comprised of three one-act operas. While the works are not connected through their plots and characters, Puccini had intended for each of them to relate to the canticles of Dante’s “Divine Comedy;” only the third opera, “Gianni Schicchi,” reflects this by exploring a historical case involving the Donati family, into which Dante married. While Puccini asserted that the operas of “Il Trittico” should be shown together, many productions choose to drop the second work, Suor Angelica, or even pair one of the three with a one-act by different composers.

The works premiered on Dec. 14, 1918.

Il tabarro

By the Seine River in Paris, dockworkers unload the barge of Michele. He permits his wife, Giorgetta, to bring wine to the workers but does not join in the fun when his wife refuses to kiss him. As the workers and Giorgetta dance, it becomes clear there is passion between her and Luigi, one of Michele’s employees. Before things continue, the party is swiftly ended by the return of Michele. As work becomes harder to find, Michele and Giorgetta try to decide which of the dockworkers should be let go, this turns into an argument for the couple when Michele’s first choice is Luigi, whom Giorgetta wishes to keep no matter what.

When Luigi asks for his employment to be terminated, Michele acquiesces to his wife’s desire; he convinces Luigi to stay by telling him there is little work to be found in the city of Rouen. Later, when Giorgetta inquires as to why Luigi wanted to be let go, the two acknowledge their love for one another. They make a plan to meet again that night, and Luigi is resolved to kill Michele so that he and Giorgetta may run away together; the signal of this plan is to be the lighting of a match on board.

Michele reminisces about his past with Giorgetta and the child they lost. His faith in her shaken, he tries to figure out who could be her new lover but each man he considers seems unlikely. When Michele lights his pipe, Luigi believes this to be the signal and so heads to the barge to meet Giorgetta. A fight ensues between the two men, whereby Michele is able to get a confession from Luigi before killing him. The opera ends with Giorgetta returning to the barge, where Michele reveals to her the dead body of her lover.

Suor Angelica

In a convent near the city of Siena, the nuns gather on an auspicious day where the sunset turns the water of their fountain golden. After paying their respects to a deceased sister, Bianca Rosa, the nuns share with each other the desires they still have from their former lives. When Sister Angelica claims she has no desires, the others begin to doubt her; they know Angelica is from a family of nobility, and it is rumored that she was sent to the convent as a form of punishment.

As Angelica makes an herbal remedy for a patient in the infirmary, a messenger arrives, announcing the presence of a grand coach. Angelica correctly guesses that one of her family has come to see her, and out steps the Princess, who is Angelica’s aunt. She explains that Angelica’s sister is soon to be wed, therefore Angelica must sign away any right she has to her inheritance. At first Angelica refuses, not for her sake but that of her illegitimate son, whom she has not seen in seven years. When the princess reveals that her son died of a fever two years earlier, a distraught Angelica signs the document before the princess departs. Swept up in grief, Angelica has a vision of heaven, where she sees her son beckoning to join him. To end her life she drinks poison, before realizing that by killing herself she will be barred from heaven, and thus her son, for eternity. In her last moments she pleads to the Virgin Mary for mercy on her soul; her prayer is heard as Mary appears before her and reunites her with her son.

Gianni Schicchi

The family of Buoso Donati gather round their now-deceased relative as he lies dead in his bed. Some mourn his passing but soon talk arises over the contents of his will and who will inherit his fortune. After a rapid search, the will is found by Rinuccio, the son of Buoso’s cousin Zita. Before the will is read, he asks his mother for her permission to marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, a commoner in Florence. Zita tells Rinuccio that if Buoso has left him his fortune, he will then be wealthy enough to marry whomever he desires. Rinuccio joyfully sends for Schicchi and Lauretta. The relatives are distraught to learn that Buoso has arranged for his money to go to the local monastery.

When Schicchi and Lauretta arrive, he soon understands the situation at hand but is harshly dismissed by Zita, who looks unfavorably upon someone of Schicchi’s standing. He is convinced to lend his services when Lauretta pleads with her father, singing “O mio babbino caro.” After reviewing the contents of the will personally, Schicchi devises a plan, but first sends his daughter outside. After moving the body of Buoso to a different room, Schicchi enters the bed and impersonates him during the visit of a doctor. When the doctor leaves, fully convinced Buoso Donati is still alive, Schicchi then readies to dictate the writing of a new will, one that will bestow various gifts to the now-excited relatives. Before doing so, he warns the family of the penalty that falsifying a will carries, namely exile and the loss of a hand. When the notary arrives and Schicchi begins to allocate Buoso’s wealth, he grants to himself Buoso’s house, his mule, and his mills, infuriating the family as they have no choice but to maintain the charade. When the notary and lawyer depart, the family is then chased out by Schicchi, as he is now the rightful owner of the house. Lauretta and Rinuccio are now free to wed in peace, due to her newfound status, and Schicchi remarks to the audience that this is the best use of Buoso Donati’s wealth.

Famous Musical Moments

Without any doubt, the single most iconic moment of the opera is “O Mio Babbino caro,” sung as a plea in “Gianni Schicchi.” The aria, which might be the most famous Puccini aria of all, but it is rather comic within the context, its sentimental nature seeming a tad bit exaggerated considering its musical surroundings.

Watch and Listen

Here are three radically different productions of the three operas, for your viewing and listening pleasure.


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