The Opera dei Pupi is a particular type of puppet theater that established itself firmly in southern Italy and especially in Sicily between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.
The Sicilian puppets are distinguished from other puppets essentially for their peculiar mechanics of maneuver and for the repertoire, consisting almost entirely of chivalric narratives derived largely from novels and poems of the Carolingian cycle.
The puppets of the eighteenth century were animated from above by means of a thin metal rod connected to the head through a joint and by means of several wires, which allowed the movements of the arms and legs. In Sicily, in the first half of the nineteenth century, a brilliant craftsman whose name we do not know came up with the effective technical devices that transformed the puppets into puppets.
He made sure that the metal rod for the movement of the head was no longer connected to it by a joint, but passed through it from the inside and - more importantly - replaced the thin wire for the animation of the right arm with the sturdy metal rod, characteristic of the Sicilian puppet. These new technical expedients made it possible to give the animated figures faster, more direct and decisive movements, and therefore particularly effective for "imitating" on the scene duels and fights, which played so much part in chivalric stories.
There are two different traditions, or "styles", of the Opera dei Pupi in Sicily:
that of Palermo, which established itself in the capital and widespread in the western part of the island, and that of Catania, which established itself in the city of Etna and spread, broadly speaking, in the eastern part of the island and also in Calabria. The chronicles tell that the initiator of the Opra in Catania was Don Gaetano Crimi (1807 - 1877), who opened his first theater in 1835.
The two traditions differ in size and weight of the puppets, for some aspects of
mechanics and of the maneuvering system, but above all for a different theatrical and show conception, which has meant that in the Catania area a much wider chivalrous repertoire than that of Palermo and in many respects different.
The Palermo tradition
Dimensions of the puppets: from cm. 80 to one meter in height.
Weight: up to approx. 8 kg.
Features of the mechanics: articulated knees; if the baby is a warrior, the sword can be unsheathed and placed in the scabbard.
Maneuvering system: from the sides, with outstretched arms: the animators are positioned behind the side wings of the stage and place their feet on the same floor as the puppets.
Stage space: action surface of the puppets deeper than wide: the width of the stage is limited by the ability of the animators to lean out of the wings without being seen from the sides.
Theatrical and show conception: more stylized and elementary
The Catania tradition
Dimensions of the puppets: from cm. 80 up to 1.30 m in height.
Weight: up to approx. 35 kg.
Features of the mechanics: rigid legs, without knee joint; if the baby is a warrior, the sword is almost always held in the right hand.
Maneuvering system: from the top of a bridge behind the seabed ('u scannappoggiu): the animators support the puppets by placing their feet on a thick wooden board suspended about one meter from the ground (' a faddacca).
Stage space: action surface of the puppets wider than deep: the animators, walking on the animation deck, can follow the puppet without problems throughout the
width of the scene.
Theatrical and show conception: more tragic, sentimental and realistic.