Marionette theater has thrived in and around the capital of Lombardy for nearly 200 years, in no small part due to the renowned company Carlo Colla & Figli.
Now, audiences in Boston will be able to experience this great Italian tradition when the company brings “Sleeping Beauty” to the Paramount Center from Nov. 13 to 17 as part of the Year of Italian Culture in the United States.
Led by Eugenio Monti Colla — the latest in a long line of Collas to work in marionette theater — the production filters the fairytale through the Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, which was composed for the ballet of the same name. First staged by Carlo Colla & Figli in 2001, “Sleeping Beauty” is one of the company’s most popular productions. It is part of an impressive repertoire that includes such tales as “Cinderella, “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “I promessi sposi.”
The production, like all of the company’s works, has been created for the enjoyment of both children and adults.
“The marionette theater (in the real Italian tradition) can be interpreted on different levels: The chromatic fantasy game, the linear tale for children actually holds a poetic intention, a game of illusions and the desire to bring adults back to their childhood roots,” Eugenio explains.
The Colla family has been presenting these multi-faceted productions for generations, long before its marionettes ever told the story of Sleeping Beauty.
In the first half of the 19th century, Milanese merchant Giovanbattista Colla entertained guests with marionettes and later, in 1868, the art form’s place in Italian culture was solidified with the construction of the Teatro Gerolamo, which was built especially for marionette theater. In 1906, this building became the base for Carlo Colla & Figli, which was established about 40 years earlier when the three Colla brothers divided up the family business following the death of their father. Carlo’s descendants carried on the tradition, leading all the way up to Eugenio in the modern day.
Eugenio left a career as a teacher to assume his current post because he “wanted to continue what was an institution of Milan,” he says, explaining that over the years, the Teatro Gerolamo and his family’s productions were enjoyed by the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Simone Weil and Luchino Visconti.
He adds, “In particular, I wanted to communicate — to both young and adult audience members — the emotions I had lived as a child in that family and on that stage. I didn’t want to open my grandmother’s trove found in the attic. I believe in puppets as a mediatic element and virtual theatrical instrument of the future.”
Today, he carries on the tradition by working in all aspects of the marionette theater, from directing to script writing to costume design. His labor of love is also an exercise in craftsmanship, as the various components of each production are created by hand in an artisan workshop — “as was the tradition of the Renaissance,” he emphasizes.
And no doubt, this high level of artistry and craftsmanship has contributed to the lasting popularity of Carlo Colla & Figli, a company that has entertained crowds around both Italy and the world, in places as far-flung as Sydney, Moscow, Seoul and Mexico City. Now, as part of the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, the company will continue its role as a cultural ambassador in an official fashion, this time bringing its work — one of the great artistic traditions of central-northern Italy — to audiences in Boston and New York.