Good afternoon classical music fans! On such a beautiful Saturday afternoon I couldn’t resist writing another blog for you all to enjoy, and it has taken me a while to choose from the extensive list what to write about (if anybody has any requests please let me know via social media or email!). To challenge myself and to make my site as diverse as possible I am finally attempting to discuss part of an opera, and who better to start this new endeavour than Giacomo Puccini! From his 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi, I will be looking into perhaps the most famous song from it, O Mio Babbino Caro. Happy Saturday everybody, I hope you’ll enjoy this next instalment of classical music fun!
Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca, Italy in 1858 and he was one of nine (yes nine!) children. The family was known in Lucca as a the local musical dynasty due to the family’s ancestors also being very much involved with music. Puccini received a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then further at the seminary of the cathedral. Puccini received tutelage from his uncle, Fortunato Magi and this propelled him to work and receive a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in 1880. After receiving funds from Queen Margherita, Puccini was able to travel and study at the prestigious Milan Conservatory, where he studied composition with Stefano Ronchetti-Monteviti, Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli. Throughout his three years at the Conservatory, Puccini composed a plethora of works, including his final thesis composition, Capriccio sinfonica, which very much impressed his tutors. After this, Ponchielli approached Puccini and suggested the possibility of composing an opera, which is where Puccini’s operatic career began.
Le Villi was thus composed in 1884, which was collaborated between Puccini and Fernando Fontana who provided the libretto. They men entered this work into an Italian opera competition, however it failed to win. Nonetheless, the work was received very well and it started to be performed across the country. Puccini began composing more operas such as Edgar (1888), Manon Lescaut (1893), La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), La fanciulla del West (1910), Gianni Schicchi (1918) and the famously unfinished Turandot. As you can see, Puccini enjoyed a very fruitful operatic career, he worked a wide-range of musicians, conductors, librettists and choreographers, and it didn’t take long for his music to become popular. However, this does not mean that he had an easy time, for example the premiere of Madama Butterfly was greeted by hostility and it took a while for Puccini and the rest of the creative team to bring it to popularity.
Gianni Schicchi is one part of a trio of one-act operas entitled Il Trittico (The Triptych). The three short operas are all different in style and approach with the first, Il tabarro, being in the style of the Parisian Grand Guignol, staged as a horrific sequence of events, the second, Suor Angelica, being a sentimental tragedy and the final, Gianni Schicchi, being a comedy. Puccini had initially planned for each section to represent one of the parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy, however in the end only Gianni Schicchi represented the epic poem. Premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on 14th December 1918, the reviews were mixed, with most reviewers agreeing that Gianni Schicchi was the best of the trio.
A very brief synopsis of the opera (which is based on an incident recalled in Divine Comedy) sees Dante visit the Circle of Impersonators where he sees one man attacking another man. Dante finds out that the attacker is Gianni Schicchi who has been condemned to Hell for impersonating Buoso Donati. The opera is based around how the seemingly ingenious peasant (Schicchi) is able to cash in on Donati’s will whilst also securing a pay-off for his daughter’s wedding. Full of deceit, jealously and anger, the opera is based in 13th Century Florence, which adds to the comedic effect of the opera. ‘O mio babbino caro’ (‘Oh My Beloved Father’) is a soprano aria that comes in the middle of the opera where Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta sings after tensions rise between her father and the family of Rinuccio, the family of the boy that she loves. The aria provides a breath of fresh air after the atmosphere has become tense with jealously and anger between different characters. It is the only ‘set piece’ of the opera, as the rest is through-composed. The lyrics are as follows:
O mio babbino caro – Oh my beloved father
mi piace, è bello, bello. – I love him, I love him!
Vo’andare in Porta Rossa – I’ll go to Porta Rossa
a comperar l’anello! – To buy our wedding ring
Sì, sì, ci voglio andare! – Oh yes, I really love him
e se l’amassi indarno – And if you still say no
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio – I’ll go to Ponte Vecchio
ma per buttarmi in Arno! – And throw myself below.
Mi struggo e mi tormento – My love for which I suffer
O Dio, vorrei morir! – At last I want to die
Babbo, pietà, pietà! – Father I beg, I beg
Babbo, pietà, pietà! – Father I beg, I beg.
As seen in the lyrics, Lauretta makes it clear that if her father does not allow her to marry the love of her life then she’ll commit suicide. The short, but very powerful formal aria is written in Ab major and is in 6/8 time. The song is slow, simple and exquisite in every way, and that is why, in context of the opera, it is a big statement from Lauretta. Now one of Puccini’s most popular arias, it is sung on its own as part of encores and concerts. The range of the song goes from an Eb4 to an Ab5, which perhaps why it is popular amongst sopranos. Puccini’s word-painting is subtle yet very effective throughout the whole aria, with emphasis on the line “I love him, I love him!”, where the soprano jumps an octave from Ab to Ab, creating a sense of drama and emotion. The end of the aria shows a small change in rhythm, where Lauretta begs her father to let her marry her love.
The song, I am sure, will be instantly recognisable as it has appeared in many films and albums by both classical and classical-crossover singers. An incredibly beautiful aria that has become absolutely timeless within classical music. I hope you have enjoyed this operatic adventure today, I am sure there will be much more to come! I’d like to dedicate this blog to my mum, who is a fan of both opera and Puccini.
Join me again soon for a new classical music adventure!