Presented by theatre company Associazione Figli d’Arte Cuticchio
The magic world of France’s Paladins narrated by Mimmo Cuticchio, master in the art of theTeatro dei Pupi Siciliani (Sicilian Puppet Theatre) and of the “cuntu” (oral account) for the first time in Australia. The Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney is proud to present Master Mimmo Cuticchio and his theatre company Figli d’Arte Cuticchio in a series of shows which will take the famed Sicilian Puppets of the Sicilian Puppet Theatre to Canberra and Sydney.
The show presented, The great duel between Orlando and Rinaldo to conquer Angelica’s heart, is an example of modification of the narrative structure of the “Opra”, born out of the need to adapt the performance to a new audience. The language of the show is condensed, in order to give more prominence to the staging quality than to a thorough development of the traditional story. The stage techniques are highly accurate. The characters themselves have been somehow modified and their identities become recognizable in the course of the action, without having to interrupt the narration with long monologues.
Plot: Paris is about to be besieged at the same time as several Paladins have left Charlemagne’s court to go and look for Angelica, whom they have all fallen in love with. Even Orlando, who is the captain general and the bravest paladin, has left the court. Therefore, Charlemagne has no other option but entrust Rinaldo with the leadership of the French army. Countless battles, escapes, clashes with fantastic creatures ensue. Rinaldo also ends up neglecting his duties and, fallen in love with Angelica, tries to snatch her from Orlando. The two paladins challenge each other to a duel, and they would have certainly killed each were it not for wizard Malagigi’s intervention.
Mimmo Cuticchio is the direct heir of an age-old form of popular (street) theatre, the Teatro dell’Opera dei pupi siciliani (Sicilian Puppet Theatre), handed down to him by his father Giacomo. It is to Mimmo that we owe the revival of this type of theatre, which after the decline it experienced in the 50’s and 60’s, had been mostly relegated to the realm of folklore. In 1973 Cuticchio opened the Teatro dei Pupi Santa Rosalia in Palermo, and in 1977 he founded the Associazione Figli d’Arte Cuticchio, with the intention of safeguarding and handing down the artistic tradition of the Opera dei Pupi. In 2015 his collection of Sicilian Pupi which includes 19th and 20th Century marionettes, was purchased by the Fondazione Sicilia, and is now on show at the Palazzo Branciforte in Palermo.
Mimmo Cuticchio is not only cuntista and puparo (storyteller and puppeteer), but also actor and theatre director. He appeared in the film The Godfather Part III, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and in the film 100 Days in Palermo, directed by Giuseppe Ferrara, in which Mimmo was both author and narrator of the final monologue. Mimmo also appeared in the documentary film Prove per una tragedia siciliana, by John Turturro, and in the film Terraferma directed by Emanuele Crialese.
The Teatro dell’Opera dei pupi siciliani, dating back with certainty to the end of the 18th Century, finds its roots in the desire for chivalric and literary themes to become part of popular (street) theatre. Thanks to the oprante’s (traditional puppet handlers) fidelity 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 scene. They evoke the epic battles between the paladins of Charlemagne, passionate defenders of the Christian faith, and the terrifying and menacing Saracen infidels, representing betrayals, troubled love stories, miraculous apparitions, and assaults by ferocious animals and demonic creatures. The heroic exploits of these characters are narrated through the re-elaboration of the material contained in the novels and poems of the Carolingian cycle and the history of the Paladins of France, as well as other sources such as Italian Renaissance poetry, the life of saints, and tales of famous bandits. Among other types of Sicilian storytellers, it is the cuntista who uses a particular technique of storytelling that distinguishes him from the typical work of the cantastorie. In fact the Siciliancunto (story) does not feature any singing, but rather a very dramatic scheme that relies on improvisation and is enriched by a rhythmic form of narration based on changes in breathing patterns. Mimmo Cuticchio is one of the few active cuntisti on the scene.