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.