The Opera dei Pupi Theatre

E’ riconosciuto dall’Unesco come Capolavoro del patrimonio orale e immateriale dell’umanità

The show and the marionettes
In its most classic forms, it started to appear in the mid-nineteenth century, when stories about villains and saints, Shakespeare’s dramas, and the incredibly popular tales about the French paladins were put on show. Amongst the most famous puppeteering families is Mimmo Cuticchio, a magical interpreter of the art of oral storytelling. Cuticchio’s family is based in the Opera dei Pupi Theatre, located in a small street in the heart of Palermo.

A theatre for the people
For the poorest, the arrival of puppets was a true feat: puppeteers exploited the suspense forged by their tale and divided the show across several evenings, always culminating in a battle scene.

How they work
For what today would be called “special effects”, “Modified” marionettes would be used, whose heads would fall off or be split in two (to then magically become whole again for the next show), or witches who could transform their face from an angel, to wearing a mask of death. The puppets were positioned sideways, so the puppeteer always had to have his arm tensed to reach the centre of the scene. The puppet was about 1.4 metres tall and weighed between 16 and 20 kilograms. Its knee was rigid and its sword always unsheathed, ready to strike. Its movements were large and emphatic, its steps and lunges slow and realistic. In Palermo, the great puppeteering families (Cuticchio, Argento, Mancuso and Sanicola) personally dealt with making the marionettes, complex creatures that took days and days of work. The first puppeteers built Christian warriors and Saracens for themselves, basing them particularly off the paintings of “Steri”. They copied the style of armour, creating the models, and starting to create helmets, swords, and suits of armour to clothe the puppets in a brave, arrogant or burlesque manner. At the Opera dei Pupi, the style and behaviours of the Sicilian people are still communicated today, such as chivalry, a sense of honour, defending the weak and upholding justice, and prioritising faith.

The exploits of the Paladins and the Carolingian cycle
These are the most common themes used as plots by the puppeteers. The liberation of Jerusalem, Saint Geneviève, Pia dei Tolomei, the Beati Paoli and Charlemagne were also frequent.

Decorating the puppets
Gano, Orlando, Rinaldo, and Angelica have populated the sides of Sicilian carts, advertising posters at theatre shows, scooters and wagons of all sorts. They have even made use of the decorations of stylists’ Dolce & Gabbana’s products.

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