In-person and streamed performance

Rinaldo, imperatore di Trebisonda

November 12, 2021

Video available below.

The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino” of Palermo, Italy, hosted a performance of Rinaldo imperatore di Trebisonda, by the Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli of Catania, as part of its annual Festival di Morgana.

Rinaldo, Emperor of Trebizond

By Alessandro and Fiorenzo Napoli
Script developed on the basis of traditional canovacci of the Catania Opira
With suggestions from the Storia dei Paladini di Francia by Giusto Lodico and from the anonymous poem Trabisonda
Performed by the Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli of Catania


With the fortress of Montalbano destroyed and his weapons and family handed over to Charlemagne near the city of Tremogna, Rinaldo was exiled by the emperor, as usual instigated by the perfidious traitor Gano of Magonza. According to the History of the Paladins of France by Giusto Lodico, which in this part of its compilation re-elaborates the anonymous fifteenth-century poem in ottava rima entitled Trabisonda, Rinaldo in the East experiences a glorious rise to the imperial throne in the city on the Black Sea, conquering with valor, charm, wisdom, and clemency the trust of thirty-six Saracen sovereigns, who from bitter enemies will become loyal supporters and defenders.

About the Show

In the evenings of Rinaldo the Emperor, the audience of the Opera dei Pupi shared the highest point of that aspiration to re-establish a more just world order and that mythical redemption from their own condition of subalternity that Antonino Buttitta and Antonio Pasqualino have perceptively identified in their studies as profound reasons for the importance and success of the Paladin stories for the Sicilian popular classes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries before the emergence of consumerism. Rinaldo, humiliated in the West and wrongly despised by Charlemagne and Gano and instead glorified in the East by many kings of different religions, became for the audience of the neighborhood theaters both the tangible proof that sometimes things in the world do turn out alright and a model of social mobility as they considered the pressing need to go and look for work outside Sicily as a real possibility of redemption from their precarious conditions.

For these reasons we wanted to develop a play that would re-enact this part of the cycle of the paladins. And we enjoyed working on the events and the characters of the Trabisonda (whose onomastic is already suggestive in itself) also because of a clear message of irenic and mutual tolerance between different religious faiths: after the initial conflicts, the Saracen rulers of the East accept a Christian emperor, while Rinaldo for his part recognizes their many merits, does not force them to convert to Christianity, leaves them freedom of worship, and does not destroy mosques.

These evenings, which we tried to condense into a single play, were important for the Opira audience for two other reasons as well. The human story of the necromancer Malagigi is concluded: after a memorable conflict between an angel and a devil for the possession of his soul, he dies as a saint. And then there are the first exploits of young heroes such as Guidone, son of Ruggiero and Bradamante, and Organtino del Diavolo, son of Malagigi: they appear here as supporting characters of the hero Rinaldo, but then they will become the protagonists of the History of Guido Santo, the continuation of the History of the Paladins of France which will cancel the mournful wound of the Roncesvalles massacre.

Here, too, there will be Peppininu, the mask of the Catanese puppet theater, engaged in the scene of the liberation of Rinaldo’s brothers from imprisonment, an example of how oral traditions and jokes have been deposited in the Sicilian Opera dei Pupi deriving, through popular theater, from the commedia dell’arte tradition.                  — Alessandro Napoli

Pre-show Presentation

The play was performed following an online mini-symposium on the theme of exile in the puppetry traditions of India, Japan, Iran, and Italy, likewise hosted by the Museo delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino.”

During the mini-symposium Alessandro Napoli (Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli, Catania) gave a presentation on the play’s literary, historical, and theatrical background, entitled “Dolori e trionfi di Rinaldo imperatore nel poema La Trabisonda.” (English translation of the abstract: “The anonymous poem La Trabisonda tells of Rinaldo’s exile in the East and his rise to the imperial throne of Trebizond. We will see the meanings that this chivalric story could convey in the second half of the fifteenth century and then among the Sicilian popular classes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who read the Storia dei paladini di Francia by Giusto Lodico and attended the performances of the Opera dei Pupi every evening.”)  The presentation, in Italian, can be found at 1:48:54 – 2:15:27 of the recorded mini-symposium.

Puppet Play

Below is a video of the performance (in Italian without English subtitles).


Columbia University

This event was held in conjunction with the “World Epics in Puppet Theater: India, Iran, Japan, Italy” project, a Columbia University Humanities War & Peace Initiative that “fosters the study of war and peace from the perspective of scholars in the Humanities, in conversation with colleagues from around Columbia and the world […] with an ultimate goal of perpetuating a more peaceful world.”


Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli

The Marionettistica dei Fratelli Napoli represents the most significant reality of the traditional puppet theater of Catania style. Founded in Catania in 1921 by Gaetano Napoli, it has now reached its fourth generation without interruption of activity. All members of the family take part in the staging of the shows according to the role that is most congenial to them among those typical of the Catania Opira. The company has been carrying out an intense theatrical activity for a century that has led it to perform all over the world. In 1978 the Napoli brothers received the prestigious Praemium Erasmianum from the Dutch Royals, which “crowns people and institutions that have enriched European culture through their activity”.”

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette

The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum is named after Antonio Pasqualino (d. 1995), who, together with his wife Janne Vibaek, undertook to collect diverse pieces of evidence of traditional puppet theater from Sicily and around the world, protecting them from destruction and oblivion. In 1975, the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions (instituted by Pasqualino and other luminaries) founded the International Puppet Museum where the items collected over the years found their home. The Museo is very active in organizing traditional museum activities as well as live theatrical shows. Its annual Festival di Morgana features performances and cultural exchanges by artists and scholars from across the five continents.

Academic Committee

Jo Ann Cavallo

(Columbia University)

Olga M. Davidson

(Boston University)

Claudia Orenstein

(Hunter College, CUNY; UNIMA-USA)

Elizabeth Oyler

(University of Pittsburgh)

Paula Richman

(Oberlin College)

Poupak Azimpour Tabrizi

(University of Tehran, Iran)


Columbia University

The Humanities War and Peace Initiative, through the Division of Humanities in the Arts & Sciences .

The Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture.

University of  Connecticut

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.

The Puppet Arts Program, Department of Dramatic Arts.

Museo Internazionale delle Marionette “Antonio Pasqualino” in Palermo, Italy 


University of Pittsburgh