The Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company of Milan, Italy, has been performing to full houses this Spoleto season at the Emmett Robinson Theatre on the campus of the College of Charleston.
Puppetry has been the family business for the Collas for over 250 years, so it’s a rare treat to see these masters at work. This is the second Spoleto that we’ve been fortunate enough to catch them.
Last time, we saw one of their operas. This time, we chose Cinderella, which is performed to a quartet conducted by Danilo Lorenzini without singing or dialogue. Occasional narration (in English) introduces characters and keeps the audience abreast of major events in the tale. The rest is expressively conveyed by the puppets’ pantomime. During our show, the audience was a mix of young and old, and the small children stayed engaged throughout.
The Cinderella that’s performed by the Collas isn’t the Disney version with all the focus on Cinderella and her mice. They use as the basis for their play the original Charles Perrault story, which he crafted for the court of Louis XIV in the late 1600s.
In this Cinderella, the prince is melancholy, only wanting to mope around the palace gardens, finding no humor in the antics of his troupe of court jesters. His concerned parents are at their wits’ end to find some way to cheer him up. Their court ministers suggest finding him a woman to marry, and so a ball is held.
The prince is not what you’d call a manly man. In fact, when Cinderella runs out from the ball, it’s his serving men that chase after her while he faints and has to be carried to his bed.
Once in his bedroom, he’s so exhausted by everyone else’s efforts to find his true love, that he simply must lay down on his chaise–which prompted a sweet little girl in the audience to say out loud: “Mommy, is he going to die?”
But no, Virginia, there is happiness and love and intricate puppet dancing still to ensue. (Think of all the strings that could become entangled.)
Out of the over 150 marionettes in the show, extra praise goes out to the lively cast of animals and the fireplace sparks that came to life. The scene-stealing star of the show, however, was the mean stepmother, the haughty Baroness.
Today at noon will be their final Spoleto performance of Cinderella. Seats are still available, at the reasonable price of $35 for adults and $20 for children. The program says the performance lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes, but the one we caught was nearly 20 minutes shorter, including an intermission.
We recommend it as a pleasant, memorable Sunday afternoon for you and the kids–or you and an aunt or grandparent. It’s family safe.