Opera of Puppets

from book Paladini by Pippo Longo

Opera of Sicilian Puppets

Harvey Barrison - CC by SA 2.0

The origins of sicilian Opera of Puppets

The "Opera dei Pupi" is mainly a theatrical representation, spectacular, by Chanson de Roland (Orlando's song), enriched in time and space. Born in Spain at the court of Charles V, around 1500, it is part of a vast collection of chivalric poems, "les chansons de geste", whose birth and diffusion dates back to 11th and 12th centuries and which recount the exploits of epic characters, of heroes who had distinguished themselves in a long series of historical events or simply fruit of the authors imagination. These "songs" - ancient chants, sung first by the people and then by the jester alone, which was accompanied with an instrument similar to the viola - are composed of a set of stanzas of an unspecified number of lines, generally decasyllables and hendecasyllables.

The best known and the most beautiful among them is the Chanson de Roland which represents a homage to the ideals of fidelity, honor, chivalry, loyalty, etc. which inspired the many knights of it protagonists. Author of the poem seems to have been an Anglo-Norman writer, Thérould (in Italian Turoldo), name quoted in the exhibition - of the text preserved in the English library created in Oxford by Sir Thomas Bodley: “Ci falt la geste que Turoldus declinet” (Here ends the deed that Turoldo tells). However this Turoldo, who perhaps had drawn on the writings of Eginardo, contemporary biographer of Charlemagne, seems to be was the scribe or copyist, or perhaps even the jester who was singing it. The poem was so successful that it was reworked into French and translated into all European languages.

There are several hypotheses on the origins of the Chansons de geste. One claimed that the songs were born at the same time as the historical facts told in the form of simple songs, chants, gushed from the popular soul and, later, elaborated and assembled by several authors.
Subsequently, the idea was established that the chanson was born in France, in cultured circles of the eleventh century, as a literary work by a new author. The poem is inspired by an episode that actually happened on 08.15.778 in Spanish territory, in Roncesvalles, near the Pyrenees, on the road that leads from Zaragoza to Pamplona and, further on, to Roncesvalles.
Out of respect for the truth, it should be noted that the protagonists were not the Saracen troops, but some Christian-Basque tribes, originally from the area, who could hardly tolerate the interference of others in their way of life. Around that episode, misrepresented in the facts and in the protagonists, a very articulated background is constructed and a heroic conclusion. After seven years of war, Charlemagne's army besieges the Saracens of King Marsilius in their last bastion, Saragoza. Marsilius cunningly asks for peace and, upon the answer, discord arises among the Christians. On the one hand, the barons, headed by Gano di Magonza, who want to accept the offer; on the other hand, Count Orlando who, sensing the betrayal, opposes and gravely antagonizes himself with Gano, his stepfather. The latter, offended, makes an agreement with the Saracens and betrays the Christians, ambushing them to make Orlando die. Charlemagne removed the field and crossed the Pyrenees, leaving as a rear guard and at the suggestion of Gano the twelve paladins at the head of twenty thousand soldiers.
One hundred thousand soldiers of Marsilius attack the Franks who, despite their value and that of the paladins, they are massacred. The battle ends with the death of Oliviero, Turpino and Orlando. The pain of Charlemagne and the final battle with the army follow of the Grand Caliph, who is defeated and killed. Zaragoza, stronghold of King Marsilio, is conquered and sacked. The traitor Gano of Mainz is tried and executed.

The story, the real one, speaks extensively of Charlemagne, a majestic figure, fabulously old but strong and vigorous in battle like the youngest of his warriors, slow in speaking but wise in counsel and command.
The French epic was welcomed with great favor in all the countries of Latin and also Germanic language and especially in northern Italy, where soon minstrels and jesters came to bring their poems that they quickly became popular. Not surprisingly, they were understood and enjoy it if you think that old French or the language of oil was then very similar to the Latin from which it derived; and it is known, on the other hand, that, with the persistence of the Latin tradition, delaying its affirmation in Italy of the national language, some of our poets wrote in Provençal language d’oc or in the already mentioned d’oil.
The sources that inspired poets and singers were innumerable but the most important is certainly the "Morgante Maggiore" by Luigi Pulci.

In the Morgante we find all the most famous characters of the Opera dei pupi: Orlando, Rinaldo, Carlo Magno, Gano di Magonza, Oliviero, Ricciardetto, Astolfo, Turpino, Marsilio, etc; there are also Durlindana, Vegliantino, Baiardo, the Olifante, etc. The female characters have different and original names, with some exceptions.


Sicilian Puppets
Sicilian Puppets