Bringing Pupi Back to Life: the story of Napoli Brothers

A visit to the Pupi workshops (and small museum) of Fratelli Napoli in the old city of Catania is a step into another world where the ’marionette’ comes to life and the creators are but servants of the Pupi creation.

The company was founded there in 1921 by Gaetano Napoli and today, now in its fourth generation, without interruption, is the most ‘significant realisation’ of the traditional puppet theatre in Catania. At the top of the stairs, beside the door leading into the workshops, is a plaque erected by the city of Catania commemorating the life and creative work for Pupi of Natale Napoli, the father of Fiorenzo, patron of the Fratelli Napoli.

Pride in their art and tradition is a hallmark of the Napoli family. Without their faithful renditions of the design, production and theatre of the Pupi, this art form may have already died in Catania. Just as Punch and Judy is a traditional puppet theatre for the English, the presentation of Opera by master puppeteers using the grand Pupi is a proud tradition in Sicily.

Puppeteers are real theatre people. The puppeteers of the Opera dei Pupi have for puppets the ‘same respect that is given to every baby’.

The family of Fratelli Napoli teamed to breathe life into their Pupi and to create shows that combined excellence of technique with true pathos – real Italian Opera. Originally the Pupi were grand creations of about 130 cms, weighing over 20 kg. An opera may last 2 hours and it is unsurprising that the small framed Sicilians were virtually crippled by the demands of puppeteering. Now the fine Pupi totally hand-made by Davide Napoli using his set of traditional tools weigh a little less and are shorter, but just as dramatic.

Fiorenzo, his father, is the master of Pupi art and the loving caretaker of the art form, its bibliography and its relics. He offered to show how each marionette is directed. He chose a fine knight and Davide donned special shoes. While Fiorenzo spoke, chanted and sang, Davide produced the action with deft control of the puppet, striding, sword blows on the shield accompanied by loud sounds of conflict, all created by his wooden shoes.

Ten family members are needed to perform in each show and the voice and actions for each character require two performers. Each performance is an emotion draining experience, and for Fiorenzo, with the sign of a tear in one eye, it is another step in his passion to protect the Pupi from becoming another art form lost to the devil of electronic media.

Seek them on the web at www.fratellinapoli.it, visit the workshop or more importantly, take a step down memory lane to attend a performance of Opera Dei Pupi.