Puppet opera is a particular type of puppet theatre, which emerged in southern Italy and particularly in Sicily in the early 1800s, is Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Traditionally the Opera of the Puppets consisted of the theatrical representation of Frankish romantic poems such as The Song of Roland or Orlando furioso, the performance of medieval clashes between knights and the Moors: the puppets were taken as symbols of the desire for revenge and justice of a social class. The Opra dei Pupi is closely connected with other forms of expression, such as those of the “Cantastorie” and “Cantari” (singers of tales): the adventures of these chivalrous heroes are narrated in episodes.

The storytellers  deals with themes of an epic nature through reciting while the Singer of tales tells the same story through song. The Opera dei Pupi is characterised by the transmission of a series of rather ancient codes of conduct which include: sense of honour, chivalry, defence of justice and faith, the need to excel etc.

Domenico Milella

ph. Domenico Milella

The term puppeteer means the person in charge of the show of puppets. The puppeteer using a particular tone of voice creates an atmosphere characterised by a certain suggestiveness and filled with tension that specifically characterises the epic scenes.
The puppeteer recites a canovaccio (vague plot outline), or performs a drama based on improvisation that is expressed following an outline of the plot In the past the performance ended with a farce, a puppet show in which the tones used by the characters were bawdy and cheerful. These tones were taken from the Sicilian fable tradition. Sometimes the puppeteers also communicated contents which were unpopular with the authorities using the baccagghiu (baccaglio) a slang known to criminals.

sicilian puppets pupi siciliani

Puppet Opera – Ph. E. Mancuso

The Sicilian puppet also taking their origins from the classical European marionette differs from the latter in that the classical European puppet is moved by fairly long strings while the Sicilian puppet is moved by using two rods, one of which is connected to the hand while the other goes inside the head. There are also four pieces of string adapted to enable the puppet to carry out the act of drawing the sword, to move its left hand, allowing it to raise the visor of its helmet. The puppets have finely chiselled wooden structures and they are equipped with real armour. The armour is created from metal plates from which parts are cut, then these parts are wrought, welded and decorated. Finally, we proceed to the frame of the puppets which is made up of nine parts including: hands, fists, legs, torso, etc.

Pupi siciliani sicilian puppets

Laboratory – Ph. Enzo Mancuso

The puppets of the school of Palermo are lightweight , they measure about eighty centimetres high and have an iron rod is placed inside them passing through the torso and head in order to support them.

Sicilian Puppets

Sicilian Puppet Theatre “Carlo Magno” – Ph E. Mancuso

There is then another iron rod placed in the right arm which allows movement and a wire running through the closed hand which enables the puppet to draw and replace the sword. Then there is a wire connected to the left knee, which as it is jointed, allows the puppet to kneel down, to take a step etc.

Palermo - Sicilia Teatro dei pupi di Mimmo Cuticchio. Ph. Eric Vandeville

Sicilian Puppet Theatre “Mimmo Cuticchio” – Ph. Eric Vandeville

The puppets of the school of Catania are heavier, they also have fixed limbs, are characterised by a height which is around one metre and twenty or thirty centimetres and can reach up to 16 kg. The puppeteers of Catania work on axes called bridge for manoeuvring, which is placed behind the backdrop.

Sicilian Puppets Teatro dei Pupi Catania

The puppets of the school of Catania – Ph. F.lli Napoli

PUPPET THEATRES IN SICILY

Associazione Culturale e Teatrale “Carlo Magno” di E. Mancuso
Via Collegio di Santa Maria, 17 – Palermo
Tel. +39 091814 6971 – +39 03475792257

Figli D’Arte Cuticchio
Via Bara all’olivella 95 – 90133 Palermo
Tel. +39 091323400 – Fax 091335922

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette A. Pasqualino
Via Butera 1 – 90133 Palermo
Tel. +39 091328060 / Fax 091328276

Opera dei Pupi di Vincenzo Argento e figli
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 445 – Palermo
Tel. +39 0916113680 – +39 03332935028

Marionettistica Fratelli Napoli
Via Reitano, 55 – 95121 – Catania
Tel. +39 095341052

Opera dei pupi di Turi Grasso
Via Nazionale per Catania, 195 – 95024 Acireale (CT)
Tel. +39 0957648035 – +39 3478061464 – +39 3291189522 – info@operadeipupi.com

Mostra Permanente dell’Opera dei Pupi
Via Alessi, 5 – 95024 Acireale (CT)
Tel. +39 095 7685611

Teatro Museo dei Pupi Siciliani 
Locali Pro-Loco Giarre, p.za Mons. Alessi, 8 – 95014 – Giarre (CT)
Tel. +39 095 9704257 – fax 095 7798557

Compagnia Marionette Don Ignazio Puglisi
Via Catullo 2 – Sortino – Siracusa
Tel. +39 0931956163

Compagnia dei Pupari Vaccaro Mauceri
Ernesto Puzzo – Via Giudecca, 5 – Siracusa
Tel/fax +39  0931465540

Opera dei Pupi di G. Canino
Via S. Ippolito, 16/c – 91011 Alcamo (TP)
Tel. +39 0924506354