Q & A: Federico Longhi On Taking on ‘Gianni Schicchi’

By Francisco Salazar

Gianni Schicchi is one the most famous comedies in the operatic repertoire as it was Puccini’s only one and has become a signature for multiple baritones. Federico Longhi is one of those baritones that has used the role as a vehicle around the world.

This week, he returns to the Teatro Carlo Felice to sing in this signature role. Prior to that run of performances, Longhi spoke to OperaWire about Puccini’s score, comedy, and creating the character of Gianni Schicchi.

OperaWire: You’ll be back at the Teatro Carlo Felice for “Gianni Schicchi.” What is so great about performing at this prestigious theater and what continues to bring you back?

Federico Longhi: I’m very attached to this theater and to the wonderful team because we have become family. It’s always a great pleasure to come back because in Genoa, the audience is incredible, passionate, and you can see how they love opera. So, after “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” I’m happy to sing “Gianni Schicchi” here and show my comic side!

OW: How do you view the character of “Gianni Schicchi” and what keeps you coming back to him?

FL: I love this role because he is histrionic, strong, and very determined. He’s a man from the countryside and he has a genuine vision of life. He’s also always ready to find a solution for everything and you can see this throughout the opera as he manipulates the family for his benefit.

OW: How does Puccini’s music shape and inform your interpretation and what are some of the fascinating qualities of this score?

FL: Puccini holds your hands and leads you. He never leaves you, but he allows you to play a role and to dig deep to create a character from the bottom of the singer’s soul! It’s a modern score that looks to the future in a clear and courageous way.

OW: How is “Gianni Schicchi’s” score different from that of of other Puccini scores?

FL: Well, in fact it’s his only comic opera, with a comic sight: a funny and joking plot! This allows Puccini to play, creating special colors, shades and rhythms.

OW: What is the key to playing comedy, particularly this character?

FL: The key is to study the score in every detail. Puccini wrote all the things he wants, so you have to transpose them in your voice and acting. Words, text, every meaning, the study of the history, figures of speech, the “tuscanity” of the language helps you to create a unique character!

OW: What is the biggest challenge when performing this character?

FL: The biggest challenge is to bring it to life, and not to portray him as a joking sketch. You have to dig deep in his personality, and musically you have to be skilled in the vocal change between Gianni Schicchi and Buoso Donati: two very different voices with two timbres of voice but it is sung by the same singer.

OW: Do you have any favorite moments in the piece?

FL: No! The opera is totally a jewel to enjoy from the first line to the last line, but one very exciting moment is the final scene where Gianni doesn’t sing, but he plays in prose: a unique and special ending. It creates an amazing thrill!

OW: How has your interpretation changed over the years and what have you discovered about the role that you didn’t know when you first started singing it?

FL: The luck of this production is to have the great Rolando Panerai directing, an extraordinary Schicchi during his time. He played the role for three, if not four, decades and it was one of his signature roles. He directs me, gives me great advice and makes me discover all that’s possible to find in this wonderful role. It’s a pleasure and and especially an honor to work with him. Grazie Maestro!


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