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PRESENTS

The Great Duel Between Orlando And Rinaldo for The Beautiful Angelica’s Sake

OPERA DEI PUPI, SICILIAN PUPPET THEATER

Italian Puppet Master Mimmo Cuticchio and Associazione Figli d’Arte Cuticchio

GENERAL INFORMATION
 

ITALIAN THEATER COMPANY:
Associazione Figli d’Arte Cuticchio’s mission

To preserve the techniques of the puppeteers and storytellers, to renew a century old puppetry theatrical tradition as well as to ensure its legacy, and give new forms to a theater of truth and poetry. This form of theater remains faithful to a century old tradition by bringing back to life its techniques and repertoires. Simultaneously, it infuses the very same art form with new stories, different theatrical languages, genders, and forms of the contemporary theater. The company was founded in 1971 under the guidance of Mimmo Cuticchio and combines two main features of theatre communication: the revival of the traditional techniques of the “pupi” (“puppets” in Italian) as well as of the Cunto (the most ancient form of Sicilian storytelling) and the research of new forms and language of theatre. In addition to the production activity, the company is also involved in promotion and education. Since 1984 he has organized an international theatrical festival entitled La Macchina dei Sogni, recognized by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities in Italy. Since 1997 he has been carrying out the project of an international school for puppeteers and cuntisti (Sicilian storytellers) with the aim of guaranteeing a future for puppet theater in Italy and in the world.

ORIGINS OF OPERA DEI PUPI (Pupi means “puppets” in Italian)


HISTORY

It is difficult to establish exactly where the Opera dei Pupi originated. Some experts think that its origin could be traced back to the Greek marionettists, since rod marionettes were known to exist by then in Syracuse, Sicily. It is less difficult to establish the start of the Sicilian Puppet Theatre. The Opera dei pupi/Sicilian Puppet Theatre, dates back to the end of the 18th Century. The Opera finds its roots in the desire for chivalric and literary themes to become part of popular (street) theatre. The stories are indeed based on epic medieval literature. The heroic exploits of these characters are narrated through the re-elaboration of the material contained in epic poems and The History of the Paladins of France as well as in Italian Renaissance poetry. The characters are typified by their facial expressions, their copper or brass armor fashion, and the emblem they wear on their suit of armor and shield.

 

SIGNIFICANCE AND MODERN PERCEPTION

Thanks to the fidelity of the master-puppeteer (the “oprante”) to the most authentic requirements dictated by tradition, and to the methods of staging passed on through oral tradition, the pupi or rather the “armed marionettes” still entertain audiences almost two centuries after their first appearance on the stage. The plots of the Puppet Theatre enjoyed great success with the working classes, who felt they could be redeemed by projecting and identifying themselves with heroes who could resolve the conflicts typical of class societies by means of virtues such as courage, loyalty and friendship. La danza con le spade (sword dance) and Cunto (storytelling) as told by contastorie (storytellers), are well-known models for the Opera dei Pupi. The rhythmic movement of the sword dance calls to mind the battle, where chivalric characters act the eternal struggle between good and evil, friends and enemies.

Opera dei Pupi today

The pupari (puppeteers) active today are nearly all descendants of old families. Only two families have never ceased their activity: among them the Cuticchio’s family. In 2001, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed the Opera dei pupi a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

INFORMATION ABOUT THE AUTHOR, MASTER PUPPETEER
 

Italian puppeteer (puparo) and “cuntista” (storyteller), hailing from Palermo, Sicily, Mimmo Cuticchio is the most important figure in the preservation and renewal of the tradition of the Opera dei Pupi in Italy. Described as one of the last true heirs of the Sicilian theatrical tradition of the Opera dei Pupi Cuticchio is known in all the world for his extraordinary intuition for quality sound and extreme attention to detail.

Mimmo comes from a family of distinguished puppeteers. His father, Giacomo Cuticchio, opened his first theatre in Palermo and became a puppeteer in 1943. Mimmo learned the traditional style of puppeteering as a young boy working at his father's side, but by the time he had grown up, he chaffed at the idea of doing the same show every evening, while his father refused him space for innovation, so he apprenticed himself to a puppet maker and learned to make his own. Over the years he maintained the tradition of the puppets’ theater, renewing it with continuous creative additions and enhancing it through artistic experimentation.
 

In 1973, Mimmo left his father’s theatre and opened the Teatro dei Pupi Santa Rosalia in Palermo, now passing the traditions to his son, Giacomo. In 1977 Mimmo Cuticchio founded the Associazione Figli d’Arte Cuticchio, with the intention of safeguarding and handing down the artistic tradition of the Opera dei Pupi, and in 1997 opened his workshop and realized the first School for pupari e cuntisti (puppeteers and story tellers) in order to ensure the future for the Opera dei Pupi and Cunto.


Mimmo Cuticchio is not only storyteller and puppeteer, but also actor and theatre director. Among all, he appeared in the film The Godfather Part III, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and he is one of the main characters in the documentary film In Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy, written by John Turturro and Roman Paska, where the actor Turturro met Cuticchio, bringing his audience in an intimate journey to his maternal homeland of Sicily.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
 

The earliest sources for performances of the Opera dei Pupi are French medieval epic poems, such as the Chansons de Geste and Arthurian Romances. These poems, originally handed down orally, tell the story of the crusades and the Christian wars led by the Emperor Charlemagne against the Saracens, or alternatively of the rebellion of the French medieval barons against their sovereign.

These epic poems provided an abundant stock of literary material until the Renaissance when new key works appeared: the unfinished Orlando innamorato (Orlando in Love, 1494) by Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Orlando furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando, 1516) by Ludovico Ariosto. These poems, composed in the courtly atmosphere of Florence and Ferrara, were followed by a third important work, La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) by Torquato Tasso, which caused a crisis and a change in tastes that heralded the end of chivalric literature.

The function and effectiveness of the symbols, characters, and objects contained in these new works were not restricted to a circle of experts who saw and listened to the singers and the audiences of the Opera dei Pupi. The new works also resonated with the poorer social classes of Sicily who, although not really knowing the plot, had a fairly clear idea about their fantastic elements and metaphorical use.

SYNOPSIS OF THE PLAY
 

The Great Duel Between Orlando And Rinaldo For The Beautiful Angelica's Sake

It is a model variation of the "Opera" narrative structure, resulting from the need to adapt the performance to a new audience. The language of the show is condensed, in order to focus on its dramatic effect rather than on the conventional progress of the plot. Stage techniques are carefully developed, and all characters become familiar in the course of the story, without interrupting it with long monologues or asides. Paris is under siege but many paladins have left Charlemagne's court, as they are and all in love with Angelica and are in her pursuit. The General Captain Orlando, the bravest of them all, has deserted the Court too, so that Charlemagne, the king of France, has to appoint Rinaldo as the commander of the French army. There are a lot of battles between paladins and fantastic animals such as the myth Hippogriff, escapes and action stories. Even Rinaldo finally neglects his duty, and, burning with passion for Angelica, challenges Orlando in a duel.                                                                        

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM, FOR EXAMPLE,
THE AMERICAN MUPPETS?

 

The “Opera dei Pupi” is the traditional Sicilian marionette/puppet theatre. The puppets differ from other marionettes in the plays presented, their mechanism, the figurative style, the scenic organization as well as the manner of performing.

First of all, the puppets are large kid-size figures who “act” on stage moved by the master puppeteers who are also on the scene.

Unlike the Muppets or other form of American puppetry tradition, it narrates stories from European literary poems, belonging to European history and tradition, and representing the characters of these poems on stage. The subjects are indeed mainly long cycles, events presented in installments based on the literature of chivalry and particularly on the Carolingian cycle. The repertory, however, also includes the lives of bandits and of saints, historical events and Shakespearean dramas. Recurrent themes include battles, duels, love stories, and good against evil. Bravery, honor, and pride are the overarching themes to the stories.

Most of these subjects provide material for several performances. Often the main performance was followed by short farces in Sicilian dialect. Characters from the farces sometimes appear with those of the chivalrous cycles playing the role of squires of the paladins, expressing in dialect the point of view of the people, or make joking comments on the action.

HOW THE PUPPETS ARE MADE

Sicilian puppets range from 2.6 to 3.3 feet in height and weigh about 17 pounds. Bodies and heads are made of beechwood and cypress. The body of the puppet is comprised of nine pieces (bust, thighs, legs, feet, hands or fist and hand). They have jointed knees; a string attached to the rod of the right arm goes through the fist to the hilt of the sword and enables the “pupo” (singular of pupi) to draw its sword and put it back in the sheath. The puppeteer uses models that have been passed down from one generation to the other and they improve with the personal touch of each puppeteer. The knight’s armor is also based on models. The puppeteer draws and cuts the different pieces from a brass plate. The various armors have specific requirements presenting different ornaments for each character. Female warrior characters are characterized by hair coming out of the helmet and by their armor structure. 

HOW TO WATCH A PUPPET PERFORMANCE

AS COMPARED TO WATCHING ANY OTHER THEATER
 

To understand the reason for the success of the Opera dei Pupi, one must understand that the Sicilian puppet theater of Mimmo Cuticchio looks at the present and speaks to new generations telling ancient stories through a magic atmosphere that transports the viewer to a world of battles, magical and fantastic animals, kings and kingdoms. This is a world that no longer exists, but that still attracts our imagination. This theater recounts the ancient stories of Charlemagne's Paladins of France and it expresses a whole range of emotions running from resignation to revolt: the puppets personify hopes, struggles, victories, and defeats in their own lives. The history of the Paladins is thus a good means of meditating on the world and of understanding life over a long period of time under varied historical and social conditions. The tales of chivalry and stories of bandits and martyrs conjure up a picture of the world and its struggles. They become a timeless picture of daily life, friends and enemies, loyalty and treachery, and ingratitude and injustice of those in power. By showing hatred for the wicked and admiration for the hero, allegiance to human laws is expressed. The audience is usually divided into two groups: the supporters of Orlando and those of Rinaldo. Each group approves of a certain type of behavior. Audiences find their own relationship with authority in this and it allows them the possibility of expressing a revolutionary ideal or a more moderate one of social reconciliation.

With this show that comes from the distant lands of Sicily, for the first time in Minneapolis and the Midwest, we want to invite the audience of Minnesota to join us in a magical moment of theater to rediscover ancient legends, but with today's sensitivity and approach.


As an introduction to this theatre performance, Mimmo Cuticchio will lead the audience to the discovery of the ancient art of the “pupari”, the traditional Sicilian puppeteers. He will also perform a short demonstration of the “cunto” (storytelling). Musical scores by Giacomo Cuticchio.
 

For More Information

Figli d’arte Cuticchio:
http://www.figlidartecuticchio.com/

National geographic documentary on Mimmo Cuticchio and his company (1984):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxVii0J1P4A

UNESCO:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ql7DxcWILE

John Turturro and Mimmo Cuticchio:
https://vimeo.com/24118533

THE ILLUSION THEATER MISSION

To generate theater that illuminates the illusions, myths and realities of our times and to catalyze personal and social change. 

THE ITALIAN CULTURAL CENTER MISSION

To promote the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Italian language and culture through educational and cultural events in the greater Twin Cities area.

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