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Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Suor Angelica / Il Tabarro / Gianni Schicchi - Puccini


Suor Angelica
(English title: Sister Angelica)

Il Tabarro
(English title: The Cloak)

Gianni Schicchi

Operas by Giacomo Puccini


Three one-act operas by Puccini have been composed for performance at one sitting. They are "Suor Angelica" (Sister Angelica), "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak), and "Gianni Schicchi." The motifs of these operas are sentiment, tragedy, and humour.

The scene of "Suor Angelica" is laid within the walls of a mountain convent, whither she has retired to expiate an unfortunate past. Her first contact with the outer world is through a visit from an aunt, who needs her signature to a document. Timidly she asks about the tiny mite, whom she was constrained to abandon before she entered the convent. Harshly the aunt replies that the child is dead. Sister Angelica decides to make an end to her life amid the flowers she loves. Dying, she appeals for pardon for her act of self-destruction. The doors of the convent church open, and a dazzling light pours forth revealing the Virgin Mary on the threshold surrounded by angels, who, intoning a sweet chorus, bear the poor, penitent, and weary soul to eternal peace. This little work is entirely for female voices.

The libretto of "Il Tabarro" is tragic. The great scene is between a husband and his wife. The husband has killed her lover, whose body he shows to his unfaithful wife, lifting from the ground the cloak (il tabarro) under which it is hidden.

The scene of "Il Tabarro" is laid on the deck of a Seine barge at sunset, when the day’s work is over, and after dark. The husband is Michele, the wife Giogetta, the lover, Luigi, and there are two other bargemen. These latter go off after the day’s work. Luigi lingers in the cabin. He persuades Giogetta that, when all is quiet on the barge, and it will be safe for him to return to her, she shall strike a match as a signal. He then goes.

Michele has suspected his wife. He reminds her of their early love, when he sheltered her under his cloak. Giogetta, however, receives these reminiscences coldly, feigns weariness, and retires to the cabin.





It has grown dark, Michele lights his pipe. Luigi thinking it is Giogetta’s signal, clambers up the side of the barge, where he is seized and choked to death by Michele, who takes his cloak and covers the corpse with it.

Giogetta has heard sounds of a struggle. She comes on deck in alarm, but is somewhat reassured, when she sees Michele sitting alone and quietly smoking. Still somewhat nervous, however, she endeavours to atone for her frigidity toward him, but a short time before, by "making up" to him, telling him, among other things, that she well recalls their early love and wishes she could again find shelter in the folds of his big cloak. For reply, he raises the cloak, and lets her see Luigi’s corpse.

I have read another synopsis of this plot, in which Michele forces his wife’s face close to that of her dead lover. At the same moment, one of the other bargemen, whose wife also had betrayed him, returns brandishing the bloody knife, with which he has slain her. The simpler version surely is more dramatic than the one of cumulative horrors.

When the action of "Gianni Schicchi" opens one Donati has been dead for two hours. His relations are thinking of the will. A young man of the house hands it to his mother but exacts the promise that he shall marry the daughter of neighbor Schicchi. When the will is read, it is found that Donati has left his all to charity. Schicchi is called in, and consulted. He plans a ruse. So far only those in the room know of Donati’s demise. The corpse is hidden. Schicchi gets into bed, and when the Doctor calls, imitates the dead man’s voice and pretends he wants to sleep. The lawyer is sent for. Schicchi dictates a new will -- in favour of himself, and becomes the heir, in spite of the anger of the others.






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