Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Catania's pupi

I am a great admirer of Sicilian pupi. Until recently I had never experienced a live puppet performance. But since my first visits to the island I was made aware first by hubby and guidebooks, and later by my own reading, that the tacky little souvenirs dangling from all the tourist shops actually represent one of the most important folk art traditions in Sicily.

I was so enamored by the antique puppets that we actually decided to purchase a few of our own. On a tactile level I view the pupi as miniature mixed media sculptures. This is folk art, yes, but some puppets, especially the antiques, have finely carved faces and elaborately decorated armor. Living with my own little collection of four old, dusty pupi, I am acutely aware that the makers of these objects were skilled craftsman, able to carve and paint wood, shape and emboss brass sheet metal, and construct the detailed costumes that clothe the cast of characters that make up the opera dei pupi.

But my appreciation of these seemingly stiff, bulky objects reached a new level after experiencing them as powerful actors in the hands of the pupeteering masters, the Fratelli Napoli, one of Catania's surviving puppeteering families that dedicate their lives to keeping this craft alive. We saw their recent performance of Cristo al Golgota at the Lomax Theater in Catania. While the subject matter of this particular performance was not all that appealing to us, especially with a three year old, we were amazed at how the pupi came to life in the hands of such skilled masters. Only in the context of a performance does the art of the Sicilian pupi become evident, with the combination of subtle and dramatic gestures, carefully orchestrated scenes and set designs, music and narration. This may be storytelling at its most fascinating!

Three more performances are scheduled at the Lomax in April, May and June, any of which are likley to be a bit more upbeat for the younger crowd than the one we saw in March.


  1. They freak me out.

    Seriously, The Sock Dropper came across a little band of them, bought them and then hung the around the house.

    Where they proceeded to watch me and give me the heeby geebies.

    I'll take you advice and go and see the next show, they come around every so often, maybe I'll find them less unsettling once I've seen the animated ( :

    I'm with yoou on the craftmanship 100%. They must take 100s of man hours to create.

  2. You have a good point, Sarah, they used to freak me out too, but the ones hanging in my space are like pals now. But there is a probably a reason why they are not hanging some where more visible in the house. There is something weird about displaying such large and lifelike puppets, I just don't know how to make that work without being freaky!!!!

  3. You know, I've always been torn about whether or not to take my kids to a puppet show here. I'm really curious to see one, but I've heard from other moms that they're often violent and can be really scary for small children. Since my daughter is SENSITIVE, so far we've stayed away. I'm still intrigued though and since I only have a few months left on the island, the shows you mentioned sound tempting!

  4. Hoping to make it to the April one with my mom. Can't wait to see them in action. Thanks for the post and info. Good to see you guys today.

  5. You bought puppets, how exciting! This is a treasure...

    A Lomax theater in Sicily, that is interesting. I discovered his field recordings of folk music from around the world a while ago (I have the Sicilian cd). Such great work. Now I must investigate this theater - in Catania!?!

  6. Emily, you are right, they often tell the tales of battles, but we only made it through about the first half hour of the show (they last an hour) and avoided all the bloodly scenes that way. They say that the shows are for 7 years old and up, but there were also younger kids. The experience is somewhat surreal, but very theatrical. I say give it a try and you can always leave early! I hope to see the show in May, maybe we can meet?

    Lucia, you'll have to tell me how the April show is, and if it is a hit maybe we'll see it together in May?

    Janis, yes, the puppets are amazing. The Lomax theater in Catania is insprired by Lomax's work. It is basically a space that is used for all kinds of things, from yoga to alternative concerts to traditional dancing, etc. You really need to come to Catania :)!

  7. Hey there! Did you know that Pupi are also very important in Acireale, very close to Catania? We still have live performance going on there.
    Alfredo at

  8. Hi Alfredo, thanks for your comment. I have seen the theater in Acireale but have yet to see a live performance there. Thanks for the reminder and I am happy to discover your wonderful blog and products for sale.

  9. My dad bought a knight puppet home many years ago when he and my mom went back to visit family, It hangs at the top my staircase protecting us from all intruders.


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