Monday, July 16, 2007

OPERA DEI PUPI


Sicilian Opera dei Pupi or puppet theatre has its origins in the Norman conquest of Sicily and the concept of honour. The tales are based on La Chanson de Roland, the later Reali di Francia and the later still Orlando Furioso. They mainly deal with the battles between Christians and Saracens though stories of saints, bandits and even versions of Shakespearian drama were all enacted in bygone days. Most sources date the tradition back to the 15th century though one or two suggest that it is older, possibly beginning in the 12th century. The main characters recognisable today are Ruggiero [King Roger of Sicily], Carlo Magno [Charlemagne], Orlando [Roland], Tancredi, the lovely Angelica and of course the stereotypical Saracen.

If you attend a performance it is often quite hard to work out what is going on as, although the tales are old, the puppet masters are quite free to interpret them as they wish, and there is a lot of puppet-blood-letting and shouting in dialect. However, you will know when to cheer as everyone can tell a “goodie” from a “baddie” and it is all great fun. As Vincent Cronin points out in The Golden Honeycomb, there was a time when every member of the audience would have been familiar with all the tales [Sicilians still are] and he rightly draws a parallel here with Greek epic and drama.

The puppets used in the Palermo tradition are quite different from those of Catania: Palermo puppets are 80 cm tall and their knees bend, the puppets being manipulated from the wings of the small “stage”. Catania puppets are 120 cm tall and their knees are rigid, so they are manipulated from above the stage. [Naples has its own tradition, too.]

The puppet theatres enjoyed their heyday in the 19th century but with the advent of literacy, cinema and, of course, television their popularity diminished. There are still families who make the puppets, though they are most often sold as souvenirs these days, and there are puppet theatres in various locations in Sicily, notably Siracusa. The International Marionette Museum in Palermo is well worth a visit.

I began this post by stating that “honour” is depicted as the most important virtue in the puppet plays: was it a short step, then, to the honour codes of the Mafia?

In the photo are my own three puppets that I bought on early visits here. [My Saracen unfortunately lost a foot, not in battle, but during the move.] “Welcome home” I said to them as I unpacked them two years ago.

18 comments:

jmb said...

This is really interesting WCLC. Are they ever held outdoors like Punch and Judy? How long do the performances last and are they considered adult or children's entertainment?
It is amazing how these traditions last because they don't sound as if they would appeal in comparison with TV. Well maybe Italian TV, because it leaves a lot to be desired.
Your puppets look very intricate. Thanks for sharing this.
regards
jmb

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

The Carolingian cycle of romance is much less known generally than the Arthurian one, which is a shame.
Orlando Furioso is in fact a beautifully rich fantasy, certainly one of the great works of European literature, but is largely forgotten.
Pity, because he had some very enlightened views on women.

Gledwood said...

Those puppet shows: do they have dialogue in really heavy local dialect as well?

Hey how's it going? Things kinda looking up for me now ...

Funny but I was thinking of you just now because I've had this intense craving to actually make Welshcakes ..! When I was younger we used to eat them quite a lot. We always called them "pics" which is anglicized from "picau" the Welsh word for them. My step-Mum is half Welsh you see and I grew up during my teens in Wales (did I post any of this? I don't remember ... typical of me probably I didn't!) ... anyway I was hungry last night so I made curry flavoured savoury "biscuits" (had to be savoury as I had no sugar whatsover)... this time I'm getting some currants (not sultanas I much prefer currants for cooking) ... and I'm going to make some of these Welshcakes. Not having an oven, I'm limited as to what I can make, but I do have a brilliant hotplate which doubles as a "griddle" ...

OK, take care now ... all the best

gleds

LillyV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lady macleod said...

great history lesson, but I must admit the "welcome home" chaps brought the smile. fascinating stuff as always.

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

My immediate thought is that the stage itself must be, by definition, small and so what size audience could be seated in such a way that the stage is not too small and distant?

Steve G said...

I don't believe I have ever attended a pupi show. Seen a few on the TV. The real masters muct be the ones that make the puppets.

PinkAcorn said...

Very interesting post Welshcakes! Punch and Judy..I think ;) I remember those two puppets but I was "quite" young then.

marymaryquitecontrary said...

I did read a little bit about the puppet shows in,'A House in Sicily'. I didn't understand why the shows were confined to shabby back streets. Is that still the case?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, jmb. I don't think these are ever held putdoors. The performances used to last all day but now they last 2 - 3 hours, if I remember correctly. All can attend, though it used to be thought that women were incapable of understanding the subject matter! Yes, it's good that the tradition survives. Crushed, I agree. Both the Carolingian cycle and O. F. deserve to be better known. Hi, Gleds. Yes, really heacy dialect sometimes. Glad things are looking up for you - will visit later. I'm OK, thanks. I bet your Welshcakes will be lovely! A hotplate is exactly what you should make them on! I knew you had Welsh connections but I don't think I knew you grew up in Wales - where, Gleds? That's strange - there's a deleted comment here and I haven't deleted any! Thanks, Lady M. Jmaes, I've only been to one of the shows and that was in a normal sized theatre. the stage is small but remember almost everyone already knows the stories. Sometimes 2 or 3 stages are used. Steve, you'd love it. Thanks, pink. Punch & Judy is a British tradition - do you have it there, then? Hi, marymary. I don't remember that bit in the book. Maybe it's because that's where the craftsmen live or lived. I don't think that's the cae now.

Girl on the Run... said...

Wow! That was such an interesting post... I have had the fortune to see one of those shows.. albeit I was younger.. but that show still is very vibrant in my memory.. lots and lots of shouting! I would imagine it's time to see one again ... soon!

M

Lee said...

A wonderfully interesting post, Welsh. It's great to be learn about such customs...thanks for sharing the tale with us. :)

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

This is the problem with the dumbing down of Literature.
I have Orlando Furioso, but have been able to procure a complete English translation of Orlando Innamorato.
I might search online- I have dowmloaded many texts that way.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, M. Yes, come over and see one soon! Thank you, Lee - much appreciated. Crushed, I'll be interested to know if you find it on the net. Don't start me on the dumbing down of lit!! Whence your interest in Ital lit, Crushed? [Over to visit you later, btw.]

enrico said...

Great post i'm Sicilian and you tech me some info i've forgot

Best regards
Enrico

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Grazie, Enrico. Sono contenta!

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

More an interest in myth and romance. I find the pseudo-historical romance fascinating- the history people once believed.

Project Gutenburg is good for finding medieval texts, but there are others.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

That's interesting, Crushed. I will have a look at that.

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