Opera dei Pupi, Sicilian puppet theatre

The Sicilian Puppet Theater, better known as “Opera dei Pupi”, was proclaimed on May 18, 2001 and subsequently inscribed in November 2008.

This form of puppet theater, whose origins date back to the mid-nineteenth century, was therefore among the first eighteen elements that were inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The reasons for such a sudden proclamation will immediately appear evident to those who consider the unique characteristics of this theatrical tradition, which belongs to at least three of the areas, according to the Convention, of the Intangible Heritage.

First of all, in fact, the repertoire of the Opera goes back, through an almost uninterrupted oral transmission, to the Carolingian cycle of the ancient French Chansons de geste, through the linguistic-cultural mediation offered by the Italian tradition of the “cantari” and the chivalric poems in octaves (first among all, of course, the Orlando Furioso). It is a repertoire that is still transmitted today orally from master to apprentice within companies of puppets largely family-run. Secondly, the marionettes, whose morphology is at the basis of the distinction between the two major typologies of the Opera, the Palermo and the Catania, are a craft product of extraordinary workmanship, whose packaging techniques and whose iconography are also entrusted to informal transmission within the artisan shops.

But what makes the Opera dei Pupi really extraordinary is the very important social function that it performs within the communities: part of the show, in fact, is left to the free improvisation of the puparo, who often chooses to give voice to social requests, historical tensions, and the moods of the population. In the second half of the nineteenth century, for example, in the midst of the struggle for national independence and unity, it could happen that Giuseppe Garibaldi made his triumphal entry next to Charlemagne and his paladins, with a syncretism that was only possible thanks to an exceptionally fruitful and vital tradition.

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