The Puppet Opera, a Sicilian tradition
8 May 2019

The Puppet Opera, a Sicilian tradition

Sicilian puppet opera among the World Heritage Sites

The Puppet Opera is a puppet theatre that was established in Sicily between the second half of the nineteenth century and the firs half of the twentieth century. The main characters are Charlemagne and his paladins, whose deeds are reworked from the novels of the Carolingian cycle. In 2008 UNESCO listed the Puppet Opera among the oral and immaterial heritage of the world.

Sicilian puppets at puppet opera
Sicilian Puppets

Sicilian Puppets and their “pupari”

Originally it was a form of street theatre, typical of the tradition of storytellers called “pupari“, whose task was to build the puppets and manage the representation: with a particular voice tone they told the story by transmitting suggestions and emotions. Although they were often illiterate, “pupari” knew by memory works such as Chanson de Roland, La Gerusalemme Liberata and L’Orlando Furioso. Each puppet represented instead a paladin, characterized by the armor and the cloak.
The most beloved puppets (from the Latin “pupus” which means child) were Orlando, Rinaldo, Ruggero and Ferrau.
The representation often closed with the farce, a show with a funny tone and when the storytellers wanted to transmit contents not allowed by authorities they used a jargon called “baccagghiu“.

There are two different styless of Puppet theatre in Sicily: the one from Palermo and the other one from Catania. The two traditions differ for some aspects of mechanics, for the different conception of thatre and show, and also for the different articulations of the puppets: light and articulated the ones from Palermo, heavier and with fixed limbs for the puppets from Catania.

Today the puppets theatre is a small show reserved for amateurs, tourists or schools and the storytellers who try to keep the tradition alive still survive. The richest collections of puppets can be admired at the international Museum of Puppets Antonio Pasqualino and the Ethnographic Museum of Sicily Giuseppe Pitrè in Palermo.

If you wish to admire these museums or a puppet representation contact us to arrange a tour for you to Palermo, Catania and other cities!

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