|Da sx Luciano, Giordano, Bianca, Gimmi e Manuela|
Italo Ferrari: the origins
‘On 27 April 1877 I entered the world. My family, who were farmers, lived in the hamlet of Casalfoschino, in the village of Sissa, in the province of Parma’.
These are the words of Italo Ferrari, the founder of the Ferrari family. The son of farmers, he was encouraged by his father to become a cobbler. But his ‘overpowering passion’ was for puppets, drawn by the performances of the maestri, Amaduzzi, Belli and Campogalliani, who occasionally passed through Sissa and the neighbouring villages.
One day, Italo decided to stage a performance…perhaps ‘stage’ is too grand a word: a few puppets, made from the stakes used for supporting the vines, a few rags, which acted as costumes and … a lot of enthusiasm.
On a winter evening in 1892, in an old stable in Roncopascolo, together with his friend Giuseppe Avanzini (who would later become his brother in law), he put on his first show entitled: ‘La foresta perigliosa’ (‘The Dangerous Forest’), from the repertoire of Arturo Campogalliani.
After a period of artistic delusions, Italo realised that a few rags were not enough to become a puppeteer; study, self sacrifice and, above all, a lot of culture would be necessary.
At first, Italo was a student of Arturo Campogalliani, but his real teacher was Francesco Campogalliani: without a doubt the greatest puppeteer of all time, Italo travelled ceaselessly with his company through the towns and villages of Emilia.
Italo learnt a huge amount from the great maestro, in fact, practically everything. He then decided to fly off on his own… ‘with my own wings’ as he loved to say.
On returning to Sissa with his wife Ebe Avanzini, who provided the voices for the female characters, he resumed his work as a puppeteer. He changed his entire repertoire, passing, though not without great difficulty, from the tragedies to which the people of the time were accustomed to comic theatre.
In 1914 Italo created the character Wladimiro Falesi, known as ‘Bargnocla’, in memory of his old employer – a cobbler – who had a large wen on his forehead.
In the postwar period, his children Giordano, Maura and Ermelinda were important additions to the Company. Due to the widespread crisis, and the fact that they were only able to perform once a week, he dedicated his time to ‘Variety’, forming a dance-hall orchestra and achieving great success.
In 1948/'49 the Ferrari family began to turn their attention back to puppet theatre, performing in numerous piazzas, the most important Italian theatres and continuing to enchant Salsomaggiore, where they had been staging shows at the Springs since 1922. For years, they were invited to broadcast their comedies on the radio and in 1953, in Turin, they participated in some of the first experimental shows on television.
Italo, who Petrolini defined as ‘...an extremely sensitive man, an accomplished genius with great knowledge of the forms and authentic style of Italian masks’, was gifted with a versatile and powerful voice, and with his great ingenuity, was able to bring numerous innovations to the puppet world, which the new generation of puppeteers still draw from today.
Italo Ferrari died in March 1961, during a performance of the comedy ‘I due anelli magici’ (‘The Two Magic Rings’) in the Teatrino dell'Annunziata, Parma.
Giordano Ferrari: a precious legacy
On his death, his son Giordano(1905-1987) took up the reins of the Company.
He was born in the puppet booth: ‘he was breast-fed by his mother…who held Colombina with her other arm’. Under his father’s guidance and with his passion for his art, Giordano soon distinguished himself as an able set designer and builder, a creator of amazing effects, a talented guitarist, a dance teacher, a painter, a choreographer, an innovator of the puppet theatre and, naturally, an extraordinary puppeteer.
The new-look ‘Ferrari Company’ consisted of his wife, Bianca Anesi, who achieved a diploma as a soprano from the Conservatory of Parma and was the voice behind all the female characters, and his sons: Luciano, an actor of rare versatility, an excellent performer with the ‘masks’, the inimitable voice of Bargnocla, an expert accordionist, a discerning impresario and supporter of puppet and marionette festivals, who had the revolutionary idea of making Parma the puppet capital, and Italo Jr, known as ‘Gimmi’, another formidable actor and artist of unquestionable character.
Giordano Ferrari continued to be the principal performer in the company, until an operation on his vocal cords deprived him of his voice. From then on, he devoted all his time to directing, producing shows, scenery, music, stage lights, sketches of costumes and creating the heads of puppets.
The Company has staged shows and worked in the most important Italian and European theatres; it has also visited Latin America and Asian countries such as Thailand. Despite its success, the Ferrari family has remained faithful to its roots, moving between Parma and Europe, between the legendary workshop in Vicolo Santo Spirito and the numerous International Festivals.
The birth of the collection
In the 1930s, Giordano Ferrari saw one of his colleagues die and realised that, after just two months, no one spoke of him any longer. It was for this reason that he had the idea of gathering testimonies, in the form of puppets, marionettes, scripts, scenery and documents; he wrote to all his colleagues, and to experts and enthusiasts, asking them to help him with any items that would bear witness to the existence of an artist, from the most humble to the greatest. ‘We must learn from everyone’, as Giordano used to say.
There was a show of solidarity, a great quest to bequeath a great history.
Many pieces were traded, others acquired with considerable effort, before arriving at what we can see today in the exhibition in the Castello dei Burattini.
In this way, Giordano fulfilled his father’s wish and created a historic collection, the only one of its kind in the world.
The company today
Today, the ‘Ferrari Puppets’ company is composed of Gimmi, his wife Manuela, their son Giordano and niece Daniela, daughter of Luciano, who passed away prematurely. They are currently carrying on a popular tradition that is continuously modernised and enriched, not only by the social issues of our own time, but also with innovative animation theatre techniques.
The family actively collaborates with the Castello dei Burattini – Giordano Ferrari Museum, arranging animation activities.
Most of the scripts are derived from old plots of the commedia dell’arte. The Emilian and Venetian masks continue to be the protagonists of the show, the typical characters of puppet theatre: Sandrone (a Modenese farmer) and Fasolino (a Bolognese youth), are still the showmen, while Brighella, Harlequin, Pantaloon, Dr Balanzone, Florindo, Rosaura, Colombina, etc. remain the principal characters of each story.
Having modernised the little theatre and staging techniques, the Ferrari family are currently performing at international level, with shows that pay particular attention to the visual aspect, enabling them to entertain a foreign audience : the company has visited Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia, France, China, Japan and the United States for tours and festivals.
Applying the concepts of the traditional puppet theatre to a more up-to-date and immediate genre, the company has had the idea of using its characters in a ‘cabaret’ performance, thus creating a type of ‘bargnocla cabaret’.
The action takes shape and develops through three characters: the puppeteer, hidden by a screen, who operates the puppet, Bargnocla, and the man, in front of the screen, who converses with him and who represents the public.
This brings to light the abyss of expression between human beings, as they free themselves from restrictions and converse through the puppet.
The result is twenty minutes of socio-political satire which, due to its very essence, is intended for a primarily adult audience.
Fairy tales are another genre that the company presents; here, special effects created by stage designs, imaginative lighting and costumes are primarily used to draw the audience into the enchanting and dreamlike world of fantasy for the duration of the performance.
Monsters and fairies are the main protagonists of the vicissitude, which also involves the characters and masks of the puppet theatre.
The other genres presented by the ‘Ferrari puppet’ company include farces, sketches, ballets, comic dialogues and vocal pieces for duos, trios and choirs.
The Ferrari Puppets
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