Saturday, January 21, 2006

Puppet Carnage

Today I went to a Sicilian puppet show. This is no ordinary marionette or hand-puppet show. The Sicilian puppets are old, traditional, huge, and violent! They are hand-crafted in solid wood, wear metal armor, and brandish swords.

We had an explanation of the theater and the puppets and later got to see just how it was all done behind (or above) the scenes. The puppets weigh as much as 60 lbs., so it's quite a job to handle one. In this case, at the Opera dei Pupi Turi Grasso in Acireale, Turi and his staff do it all--sound effects, costuming, staging, and selling of souvenirs.

Mr. Turi Grasso inherited this trade from Emanuele Macri, who noticed Turi when he was only sixteen and regularly attended his puppet shows. Emanuele himself was the protege of Mariano Pennisi, the most famous puppeteer in Sicily, who rescued Emanuele from the 1908 earthquake in Messina and raised him as his own son. (Thanks to Andrew Wilson for this story.) Emanuele toured Europe with his puppets, and the theatre became world famous. Anyway, today the theater is in a very modest but well-decorated building that will seat a few dozen people.

The show itself reminded me of my opera experience-- I didn't have a clue as to what was happening in the story (even with the handout). They were very funny to watch because their legs don't bend but they talk a LOT with their hands like all good Sicilians. Suffice to say that it was THE most violent puppet show you will ever see. The Crusader puppets (Orlando, Rinaldo, and others) spent 45 minutes fighting off the Turks, snakes, giants, a dragon, and the devil himself. They fought with swords, crashed and bashed each other, often flying all the way across the stage, and many puppets were decapitated in the process. In the final scenes, all the Crusader puppets were killed off (even the female one), all the Turks were killed off, and piles of puppet carnage littered the stage. (Point of interest: the good guys always enter stage left and the bad guys stage right.) Finally, the battle came down to the devil, representing the Turks, and Archangel Michael, representing the Crusaders. Guess who won??

(Picking up puppet carnage afterwards.)


At October 07, 2007 5:28 PM, Blogger ejh2 said...

I like your description so rather than write my own in my blog, I'm going to link to yours.


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