My Trip to Sicily: Sicilian Puppet Show
October 30, 2017
One of the things that I have always wanted to do is see a Sicilian Puppet show. Known as Opera dei Pupi (pupi means puppets) the show is similar to an ongoing TV series. Each episode tells a continuing story through the lives of chivalrous Christian knights fighting battles with their enemy, the Saracens and saving damsels in distress. You get to know the main characters for each episode that can include Orlando, Rinaldo, Angelica and others.
The tradition is said to go back to medieval times when puppetry was a form of entertainment. So while I was in Sicily, I looked forward to a production of Orlando al castello di cristallo at the Teatro Museo Puppet theatre in the city of Siracusa. Orlando is a virtuous knight known for his sense of duty, compassion and his protection of women. He fiercely battles the Saracens. I also took in a behind the scenes performance in Palermo at the studio of Enzo Mancuso who is continuing the art of the puppet performances started by his grandfather, carried on by his father, how him and is two sons.
The wooden puppets are elegantly cared from wood and dressed in gorgeous detailed period costumes. They are extremely limber in their movements, which are controlled by the puppeteers behind the scenes, who also are the voices and sounds of the puppets. The faces are hand painted and their armor intricately hand-hammered with designs such as eagles, stars and crests.
Battle scenes are fast and furious with musical accompaniment and fierce animals like dragons and alligators getting into the story. All of this takes place on a stage with different set scenes and sometimes-billowing smoke!
In 2011 UNESCO declared the Opera dei Pupi to be an essential part of oral tradition and Sicily’s identity and deserved to be saved from extinction.