The Opera dei Pupi of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century and is a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site.
Sicilian puppets differ from other marionettes in their manoeuvring mechanism and also in their repertoire, which deals with chivalric narratives derived largely from novels and poems from the Carolingian cycle.
In Sicily, a still unknown creator devised new technical mechanisms that transformed marionettes into puppets. The essential difference was that the metal rod that allowed the movement of the head entered inside the head itself, also changing the wire that supported the right arm in the same way. All this allowed the puppets to move faster and made the duels more ‘realistic’.
The Sicilian tradition is divided into two types of puppet theatre, one from Palermo and one from Catania:
– the Palermitana has puppets ranging in size from 80 cm to one metre in height, while the weight is up to around 8 kg. The knees are articulated and if the puppet is a warrior, the sword can be unsheathed and placed in its sheath. The design of the show is elementary and stylised.
The manoeuvring system is from the sides with outstretched arms. The animators are positioned behind the side wings of the stage and place their feet on the same treading surface as the puppets. The stage is deeper than it is long.
– The promoter of opera in Catania was Don Gaetano Crimi (1807 – 1877), who opened his first theatre in 1835. According to Catania tradition, the size of the puppets ranges from 80 cm to 1.30 m in height. The weight even goes up to around 35 kg. Here the legs are stiff, without a knee joint, and if the puppet is a warrior, the sword is almost always held in the right hand.
It is manoeuvred from the top of a bridge behind the backdrop (‘u scannappoggiu). The animators support the puppets by resting their feet on a thick wooden board suspended about one metre above the ground (called ‘a faddacca).
The stage space is exactly opposite to that in Palermo: the action surface of the puppets is wider than deep. The theatrical and performance conception is more tragic, sentimental and realistic.