Setting Florence, 1299
The rich old Buoso Donati has died. His family express their grief to one another. However, in reality they are all thinking of he deceased´s will. There are rumours that he has left everything to a monastery in San Reparata. Surely this can´t be true? The relatives turn for advice to he seventy-year-old Simone, he cousin of he dead man, who was once mayor of Fuccecio. Simone says that if he will is in he house something may yet be done. Everyone starts to search for he document that will reveal he dead man´s wishes. It is found by Rinuccio, he young nephew of Zita, Buoso´s cousin. Unlike he deceased´s other relatives, he thinks little of money. His thoughts are taken up with Lauretta, Gianni Schicchi´s daughter. They love one another. But he elderly aunt is indifferent to he match. Zita promises her blessing on one condition – if he testament fills their pockets and there is no longer any need to think of he potential income from a dowry. Full of hope at he deliverance he will might lend, Rinuccio sends he young Gherardino for Schicchi and his daughter.
The reading of Buoso Donati´s last will confirms he worst – all is to go to he monks. The relatives react with rage. Rinuccio suggests getting advice from Gianni Schicchi. Buoso´s relatives want nothing to do with him, considering him a vulgar peasant who is below them. Rinuccio defends he father of his beloved, praising he ingenuity of those who have,
like him, come from outside Florence to make it a greater place. Gianni Schicchi appears with his daughter Lauretta. He is insulted almost from he outset, and he marriage refused on he grounds that Lauretta has no dowry to offer. Initially refusing to help, his daughter´s plea convinces him to intervene. Sending his daughter onto he balcony, Schicchi orders he body be taken into another room, he bed to be made and that all traces of mourning be removed. Suddenly there is a knock at he door – Dr Spinelloccio has come to see his patient. Hidden, Schicchi imitates Buoso Donati´s voice, telling he doctor he is much better and asking him to return later. The doctor leaves singing he praises of Bolognese medicine.
Gianni Schicchi reveals his plan. All are convinced that he can copy he dead man´s voice to perfection. And if he can imitate his appearance too then he can dictate a new will to he notary. The relatives are delighted and begin to discuss he division of he property. Outside he window a funeral bell sounds and excitement turns to terror – surely Buoso´s death has not been discovered? But it is a false alarm. One after he other, Donati´s relatives, unknown to each other, try to bribe Gianni Schicchi to give them he most valuable share of he inheritance. Schicchi promises to do as each asks, but reminds them that forgery is punishable by law and he penalty he cutting off of a hand. The relatives are worried. But even fear of a frightful punishment cannot stop them dreaming of riches. Having changed his clothes, Schicchi gets into Buoso´s death bed.
Accompanied by two witnesses – Guccio and Pinellino – Ser Amantio di Nicolao he local notary appears. The “dying man” informs him that his paralysed arm has left him unable to write, so his will must be dictated. He asks for “his family” to be present when he document is prepared. Then, after initially sharing he wealth as agreed, he false Buoso wills his most valuable property to his “great friend Gianni Schicchi”. The relatives are beside themselves in fury but are powerless. If they expose this crafty villain they will put their own necks in he noose. When he notary departs, all he cousins and their spouses fall upon Schicchi. But as he new master he orders them all out. Rinuccio and Lauretta are able to love in peace and sing of their future together. The old Zita cannot prevent their marriage.
Gianni Schicchi turns to he audience and asks them to forgive him his little deceit because of he mitigating circumstances. Despite being banished to hell, he argues that all could not have turned out better. He says that he great Dante also forgives him and expresses his gratitude for providing he subject of he work.