L’Opera dei Pupi. Or, in Sicilian, Òpra dî Pupi – The Puppet Works
We wouldn’t say Puppet Opera, or even Puppet Theatre, we would say Puppet Show
But you can’t compare a Puppet Show to Opera dei Pupi. It’s like comparing the Kraft cheddar of my childhood to freshly made ricotta.
I first learned about this traditional theatre from Roberto, who listens to my Italian so patiently, answers me so slowly and, when he sees that I’m too dazed by his Italian, will write it down for me. A gracious man indeed.
Roberto has a tiny little shop just over the bridge into Ortigia. He sells postcards, cartolini, and little knick knacks for souvenirs. I don’t know the word for souvenirs but I use ricordo which, I think, is ‘memory’. In any case it’s understood as something like a souvenir.
Roberto is another one who has no English at all but he has been just fantastic in his dealings with me. There are a hundred little shops selling postcards and mementos but I always go back to him. He never fails to give me a big smile and the story behind his knick knacks.
I saw puppets in his window. Pupi Siciliani he told me, and then began a long tale about Angelica and Orlando. After his first sentence I was lost, and told him so.
Mi dispiace, non capito. Sorry, I don’t understand.
Not at all fazed by my lack of comprehension, he continued with the story. He began to mime swordplay. Vigourous swordplay! He bounced to his feet and strode out to the street, imaginary sword in hand, declaiming something bloodthirsty about i Saraceni The Saracens!
Cavalieri, I heard, Then Paladini.
OK. Knights. Paladins.
La storia, he said. Medievale
So this was history, medieval history. I suppose it would be with knights and swords. I still didn’t get it.
Carlo Magno said Roberto gravely. And again, soulfully, Carlo Magno.
Ah, now I have it. Charlemagne.
Carlo Magno? I answered, Carlo Magno è Charlemagne!
Then I knew who Orlando was. Roland! I remember reading La Chanson de Roland at school, heaven knows how many years ago, Roland is a great hero to the French, to Western Europe. A legendary hero in the same way that Arthur is to the British.
I bought a puppet.
These puppets became popular in Sicily late in the Middle Ages and are still considered an important part of Sicilian folk culture.
The action is based loosely on history, on Charlemagne’s knights, and the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily. And Saracens! As well as these dramatic historical figures, you get local folklore and comedy thrown in.