While touring Sicily, we went to see a puppet show Palermo’s Opera dei Pupi—actually a marionette show—a traditional form that developed in Sicily at the beginning of the 15th century. I expected to see something similar to Pinocchio; instead I learned that the stories told are primarily about medieval adventures such as Charlemagne and his knights, the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily and the Saracens. There are about three hundred tales included in this element of Sicilian folk culture.
On the day we visited, Charlemagne sent Ruggiero to Rome—as he travels he meets and kills a dragon. Ruggiero then rescues the lovely Aladina, a lady held captive by a giant, who intends to sell her as a slave. The giant is quickly dispatched by Ruggerio and his soul is claimed by the devil. Ruggerio and Aladina make their way to Pinamonte Castle where Pinamonte—a pagan nobleman—poisons our hero and then stabs him to death. God and the angels appear and receive Ruggiero’s soul. Aladina informs Charlemagne who sends Orlando and Rinaldo to avenge Reggiero. A battle is fought with the pagan army—when the bloody conflict ends—Orland and Rinaldo are the victors and Pinamonte meets his well deserved end.
Made of wood and cloth with metal trappings, they are made by families who specialize in making and presenting marionettes in their theatres and require highly developed skills learned over years of hard and dedicated work. One of Palermo’s best pupi creators are the Cuticchios—the family has been prominent as both puppeteers and craftsmen generation after generation. The marionettes are carved, painted and decorated and controlled by strings. They work against a backdrop of canvas painted in long-established Sicilian colors. After the show, the audience is invited to learn about the armored and helmeted marionettes. The show was recognized as a Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.