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Opera dei Pupi, Sicilian Puppet Theatre


Opera dei Pupi, puppet plays portraying epic sagas, emerged in Sicily in the early 19th century and remained popular until the 1950s. Puppeteers prided themselves on their own performance traditions and techniques and passed them down through their families. The performances involve improvization based on plot outlines, and use exquisitely crafted puppets and props. Plots came from poems, romances and popular librettos, but dialogue is improvised.

The puppets are intricately crafted and feature highly exaggerated expressions. The brightly painted wings and backdrops are also very much appreciated. Puppeteers left the carving, painting and design to specialist craftsmen, who employed traditional methods handed down over the decades.

Threats: Opera dei Pupi has been in decline since the development of the entertainment industry and the advent of television. Social changes in Sicilian towns and neighbourhoods also took their toll. Many puppeteers were forced to abandon their profession.

Action plan: Proposals include master training workshops for young puppeteers, Sicilian puppet theatre festivals and awards. National and international performances and a school of puppetry, are envisioned.