Anyone visiting Palermo has certainly seen these colorful marionettes displayed in every souvenir shop. These marionettes called Pupi Siciliani are a core symbol of Sicilian folk-art and represent the island’s cultural identity as the carretti Siciliani (Sicilian painted horse carts) and cannoli.
The Pupi Siciliani are the protagonists of the Opera dei Pupi (Sicilian Puppet Theater), a popular form of entertainment originated in the 19th century with roots that stretch back to the 15th century.
The performances of the Opera dei Pupi are inspired by Sicily’s turbulent history, works of literature, folklore and comedy. The characters in the Opera dei Pupi impersonate heroes of southern Italy’s history as Norman knights against the Saracens. Much has been adopted from the lyric poetry of the Troubadours and the epic tales of chivalry known as the Chansons de Geste (the Songs of Deeds). The performances in which Orlando and Charlemagne are protagonists are derived from the famous Chanson de Roland, while various interpretations are inspired by Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
The Opera dei Pupi also covers subjects from classical Greece and Rome such as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey”.
The dialogues of the Sicilian Puppet Theater are usually improvised but the plots remain the same. The skill of the puparo is not only displayed in the actions of the marionettes but also in the improvisation of the dialogues. In the last 50 years, with the advent of more modern forms of entertainment, this ancient Sicilian tradition has declined. To preserve this unique folk-art, UNESCO has designated the Sicilian Puppet Theater as one of the world’s “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
In recent years Sicilian cultural movements supported by regional government funds are working to preserve the tradition of the Opera dei Pupi organizing puppet festivals and Sicilian puppetry schools.
It is possible to admire the Pupi Siciliani in theaters and museums throughout the island.
Museo Etnografico Siciliano Giuseppe Pitrè
Teatro dei Pupi Cuticchio – www.figlidartecuticchio.com
Via Bara all’Olivella
Mimmo Cuticchio has played a fundamental role in the contemporary renewal of the Opera dei Pupi. He has also appeared in the film The Godfather (part III).
Museo Internazionale della Marionette Antonio Pasqualino
Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualino, 5
In Partinico (prov. Palermo):
Real Cantina Borbonica (in the photos) – www.realcantinaborbonica.it
Viale della Regione, 27, 90047 Partinico
Ass. Culturale I Pupi di Nino Canino – www.ipupidipartinico.it
Opera dei Pupi Famiglia Gargano – www.teatrodeipupigargano.it
Teatro Stabile dell’Opera dei Pupi – Cultural Center “Le Ciminiere”
Viale Africa, cap 95100 – Catania
In Acireale (prov. Catania):
Museo dell’Opera dei Pupi Mario Grasso
Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi Emanuele Macrì – www.teatropupimacri.it
In Caltagirone (Prov. Catania):
Museo Teatro Stabile dei Pupi Siciliani