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The Ancient Art of Puppetry in Palermo
In a dark room, a drum beats ominously. There is a deafening battle cry and a fierce soldier charges onto the stage brandishing a gleaming sword.
At the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum in Palermo, master puppeteer Salvatore Bumbello, of the theater company Opera dei pupi Brigliadoro, puts on a nightly performance for visitors. From the wings of a small stage, he manipulates his puppets with thrusts and flicks of his arm, voices all the dialogues, and occasionally stamps his foot on which there is a wooden block for sound effects.
The art of puppetry has been practiced in Palermo for over 200 years. Although there are few theater companies left, the tradition is still a major part of Sicilian culture. The dramas performed are historic. Many derive from the legend of the Paladins of France, a fictional band of 12 knights from Charlemagne’s court in the 8th century. They are led by Roland and perform bloody battles against the invading Saracens.
The puppets themselves are artworks. In the museum, there are historic puppets, or pupi as they are known locally, on show. The oldest puppet dates from 1828. Her name is Carinda and she is a valiant knight wearing a gracefully curved breastplate and intricately decorated metal greaves on her legs.
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