Gianni Schicchi

``Inspired by a passage in Dante's Divine Comedy.'' Words to that effect often as not accompany any introduction to this comic masterpiece. The passage in question, from Canto XXX of the Inferno, runs as follows:
Ma né di Tebe furie né troiane
si vider mäi in alcun tanto crude,
non punger bestie, noncheé membre umane,
quant'io vidi in due ombre smorte e nude
che mordendo correvan di quel modo
che 'l porco quando del porcil si schiude.
L'una giunse a Capocchio, e in sul nodo
del collo l'assannò, sì che, tirando,
grattar li fece il ventre al fondo sodo.
E l'Aretin che rimase, tremando,
mi disse: ``Quel folletto è Gianni Schicchi,
e va rabbioso altrui così conciando.''
``Oh,'' diss' io lui, ``se l'altro non ti ficchi
li denti a dosso, non ti sia fatica
a dir chi è, pria che di qui si spicchi.''
Ed elli a me: ``Quell' è l'anima antica
di Mirra scellerata, che divenne
al padre, fuor del dritto amore, amica.
Questa a peccar con esso così venne,
falsificando sè in altrui forma,
come l'altro che là sen va, sostenne,
per guadagnar la donna de la torma,
falsificare in sè Buoso Donati,
testando e dando al testamento norma.''
Rage so merciless was never seen,
Either at Thebes or Troy - nor yet again
When beasts, or human limbs, are gashed with wounds -
As that I saw, in two pale naked shades
Who, biting, ran about in that strange way
A boar will do, when loosened from his pen.
One, seizing on Capocchio, fixed his teeth
So firmly in his neck, he dragged him down,
Making his belly scrape along the bottom.
He of Arezzo, who stood trembling by,
Said to me: ``That mad soul is Gianni Schicchi
Who mangles others in his frenzied rage.''
``Oh,'' I replied, ``so may that other spirit
Never attack you! Pray do not disdain
To tell us who it is, ere it departs.''
And he to me: ``That is the ancient shade
Of the abandoned Myrrha, who became
Her father's mistress in unhallowed love.
'Twas by deceit she came to sin with him,
Assuming for the nonce another's form -
Even as that other frenzied shade once dared,
That he might gain the fairest of the stud,
To counterfeit the person of Donati,
Making a will in proper legal form.''
translation by Lawrence Grant White

The spirit of Forzano's and Puccini's comical gem is scarcely hinted at in this brief and grim allusion to an obscure event in the social history of Dante's Florence. The true source of the libretto is in fact the ``Commentary on the Divine Comedy by an Anonymous Florentine of the 14th Century'', a work which appeared in print in 1866. That commentary provides the following detail:

``This Gianni Schicchi was of the Cavalcanti of Florence, and the story is told of him that: Messer Buoso Donati being mortally ill, he wished to make a will, as he had much to leave others. Simone his son put him off with words, so that he could not do so, and kept putting him off until he died. Simone concealed his death, afraid that there might be a will he had made before his illness. Simone, not knowing what to do, called on Gianni Schicchi for counsel. Gianni knew how to mimic everyone in words and actions, especially Messer Buoso, whom he had known well. He said to Simone: Call a notary, and say that Messer Buoso wishes to make a will: I will get into his bed, we'll hide him behind it, I will cover myself well, putting on his nightcap, and I will dictate the will as you wish: and see to it that I profit as well. Simone agreed with him: Gianni gest into bed, appears to be in pain, and imitates the voice of Messer Buoso so that he appears to be him, and begins the will, saying: I leave 20 soldi to the works of Santa Reparata, and 5 lire to the Little Friars, and 5 to the Preachers, and so on, distributing to God, but in very small amounts. To Simone, who was to profit from this deed, he said, and I leave additionally 500 florins to Gianni Schicchi. Simone says to `Messer Buoso': this needn't be put in the will; I'll see that he gets them- Simone, I will leave what is mine to whom I please: I will leave you enough, that you will be happy- out of fear, Simone kept quiet. He continues: And I leave to Gianni Schicchi my mule (for Messer Buoso had the best mule in Tuscany). Oh, Messer Buoso, said Simone, he doesn't care anything for this mule: I know what Gianni Schicchi wants better than you. Simone begins to be consumed with rage, but keeps silent out of fear. Gianni Schicchi continues: And I leave to Gianni Schicchi the hundred florins that my neighbor owes me: and the remainder I leave to Simone, on this condition, that he execute all my bequests within fifteen days; otherwise, I leave everything to the Little Friars of the convent of Santa Croce; and the will being complete, everyone departed. Gianni gets out of bed, Messer Buoso's body is replaced, and they rise up, and weep, and say that he has died.''