It's always a delight when Fagiolino thrashes his old pal Sganapino with a wooden cane. Fortunately for audiences, such arbitrary thrashings happen all the time in maestro Riccardo Pazzaglia's world of Italian puppet theatre, called burattini.
At 28, Pazzaglia's already a star of that world; his company, I Burattini di Riccardo, stands as one of Italy's finest. Visiting Colorado College professor Francesca Mirti, also of Bologna, orchestrated Pazzaglia's upcoming visit "to encourage the diffusion of this remarkable art to an American audience," and also to demonstrate the "cultural richness and diversity of local traditions."
Burattini theater originated from the piazzas and open-air markets of 16th-century Italy. It was the era of the Commedia dell'Arte ("the art of comedy"), and the first burattini puppeteers staged improvised performances alongside fruit vendors, butchers and fishmongers. Pazzaglia remains faithful to this populist approach, and his tenacious devotion to the Bolognese tradition merits his purist reputation.
He's toting 30 handcrafted puppets to CC for display and, of course, performance. Pazzaglia controls the hand puppets (which he wears like gloves) from behind a curtain and below an elevated stage. Many of the characters' personalities are naturally bound to the Bolognese tradition, he says; they speak the city's unique dialect and represent many of the city's characteristics.
For instance, the popular Balanzone both an intolerable pedant and tubby gourmand synthesizes the city's reputation for learning and knowledge with its claim as the gastronomical capital of the country. Often ridiculed as "fat with knowledge," he is nonetheless a sympathetic character. Traditional characters from other cities are also present, along with such historical figures as Dante and Verdi.
The diverse cast represents "a parallel world," according to Pazzaglia, "where anything can happen, but even the darkest tragedy can be magically resolved."
Expect a classic of the company's repertoire, The Punished Boaster, during CC's April 4 performance in addition to a playful grand finale featuring, yes, Fagiolino's merciless beatings.