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Celebrating Recent Work by Jo Ann Cavallo

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateOctober 25, 2023 timeWednesday, 6:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Italian Department
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Cover of The Sicilian Puppet Theater of Agrippino Manteo (1884-1947): The Paladins of France in America by Jo Ann Cavallo

The Sicilian Puppet Theater of Agrippino Manteo (1884-1947): The Paladins of France in America
By Jo Ann Cavallo

Sicilian puppet theater is a unique nineteenth- and twentieth-century popular theatrical tradition based on the masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance chivalric literature. It flourished not only in southern Italy and Sicily, but also in the diasporic Italian urban communities of North and South America and North Africa, bringing immigrants together for nightly performances of the same deeply cherished chivalric stories. Even though this art form was designated by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” in 2001, it remains largely unknown today because by the late 1950s Sicilian puppet theater companies had ceased to perform the full Paladins of France cycle that used to extend nightly for well over a year. Thus, the only means we have left to explore the substance of this once widely enjoyed cultural phenomenon are the scripts dating from opera dei pupi’s heyday. Most of these invaluable documents, however, have been lost, while the few sets still in existence are either privately owned by the remaining puppeteer families and collectors or tucked away in the archives of Italian institutions. Thanks to the newly accessible scripts of the preeminent Catanese-American puppeteer Agrippino Manteo (1884–1947), whose career stretched from Sicily to Argentina to New York, students, scholars, and the general public can now explore the cycle of chivalric narratives staged during the golden age of Sicilian puppet theater.

The many delicate hand-written notebooks containing Agrippino Manteo’s dramatic repertory are not only of interest for their historical and aesthetic value. These masterfully executed theatrical adaptations invite readers into a chivalric world featuring knights and damsels from across the globe – from Europe to Africa to East Asia – who share the stage with a host of wizards, fairies, giants, and monsters, in alternating episodes of love, enchantment, adventure, and warfare. The concerns with which they engage, such as justice, identity, duty, love, freedom, and virtue, transcend the categories of elite and folk, local and global, medieval and modern, interrogating what it means to be human.

This book provides the most comprehensive history to date of the Manteo Family's Sicilian Marionette Theater across three generations and brings to light for the first time the contents of Agrippino Manteo’s extensive Sicilian puppet theater scripts, including translations of 8 selected plays and 270 extant play summaries of the famous Paladins of France cycle. Accompanying comparative analyses uncover the creative process of adaptation from Italian Renaissance masterpieces of chivalric poetry to nineteenth-century prose compilations to Agrippino’s opera dei pupi.

About the Author

Jo Ann Cavallo has been on the faculty of Columbia’s Department of Italian since 1988. Her field of specialization is the Renaissance romance epic (primarily Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso) and its performance traditions in the Mediterranean. Other courses she has taught in the Department include Petrarch and Boccaccio, fifteenth-century civic humanism and Neoplatonism, Machiavelli, Castiglione, the development of the Italian language, Italian cinema, allegorical literature, political literature, and forgotten best-sellers of the Renaissance.

About the Speakers

Barbara Faedda serves at Columbia University as the executive director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, where she conceived the International Observatory for Cultural Heritage, and as an adjunct professor in the Italian Department. In 2019, she was appointed ambassador, permanent representative for the European Public Law Organization to the United Nations. Her books include From Da Ponte to the Casa Italiana: A Brief History of Italian Studies at Columbia University (Columbia University Press, 2017).

Jhumpa Lahiri is the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Barnard College. She is a bilingual writer, translator, and literary critic born in London and rasied in the United States. In English, she is the author of two short-story collections (Interpreter of Maladies; Unaccustomed Earth) and two novels (The Namesake; The Lowland) all of which explore the experiences of Bengali immigrants in the United States.

Anna Lomax Wood served for twenty years as a public folklorist working with Italian immigrants from Northern and Southern Italy and Sicily to produce festivals, concerts, workshops, and music tours. She also worked with Spanish and Greek immigrant artists. In 2022, she stepped down from her role as president of the board of the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) after 26 years at the organization.

Konstantina Zanou is an Associate Professor of Italian, specializing in Mediterranean Studies, in the Italian Department at Columbia University. She is a historian of the long nineteenth century in the Mediterranean. Her research focuses on issues of intellectual and literary history, biography, and microhistory, with a special emphasis on Italy (the Risorgimento), the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman world, Greece, the Ionian Islands, and Russia.