The Man Behind the Mask

May 6, 2009 / Local Interest
Rione Sanita', Napoli
brunelloleone1Brunello Leone was an architect who gave up his career in 1978. He did not win the lottery, nor did he follow Siddharta’s example and sit under a tree to reach Enlightenment. Much better…

Bruno Leone had a chance encounter with Nunzio Zampella, (both pictured at left), the last man on Earth to practice the art of the guarattellaro (Neapolitan for Puppeteer) and decided that he was not going to allow this art form to become extinct.

brunelloleone2Therefore, he made it his own, integrating its original elements and using them to talk about our modern society. To him, “The language of the guarattelle is like tarot cards: with a limited number of characters you can narrate the entire story of every human being.”

A guarattella is composed of five characters. The protagonist, Pulcinella, represents the wish to live. His girlfriend represents life itself and being together is their ultimate desire. However, there are three evil creatures that try to prevent this from happening. The Dog, the Guappo, and Death, (the fears of nature, of the other, and of the unknown respectively). With these five characters, Bruno makes an incredibly varied repertoire of shows that have ranged from the problem of the trash in Naples to the war in Cecenia to Pulcinella vs. bin Laden to the life of San Gennaro.

brunelloleone3With his shows (now the world over) Mr. Leone teaches children to be aware of the world around them, to act upon the bad things they can change, and learn to laugh about the rest. He has even set up a Scuola delle Guarattelle (Guarattella school) and now has many apprentices scattered throughout the world. However he refuses to think of them as such, because “I learn something from every student. Therefore, they are my teachers.”

Be sure to support this unique art form when you are next in Naples! Scroll down for more photos.



by Valentina Nesci

— Contributed by Valentina Nesci, writer, American University of Rome Senior, Italian Notebook Editorial Intern.

7 Responses to “The Man Behind the Mask”

  1. hebegb

    Allow me to be the first to say so… if there were a Pulitzer for ItalianNotebook, this note would win it. Brava Valentina, you have outdone yourself!

  2. Evanne Diner

    Thanks so much, Valentina, for this wonderful description. Bruno gives the world a gift by showing children how to learn to understand the world about them and make it a better place. We could all take a lesson from him.

  3. Stephen Moscatello

    I have always found these puppet sagas wonderfull ,Here in new york i have heard of one but never able to find it .if you ever come to the states id love to see this trully exceptional and rare art form

  4. Joe Pillitteri

    Once again…this is what the Italian Notebook was created for!! Mille grazie,

  5. louise

    What a story! Amazing that someone would dedicate his life to keeping a long time tradition going. Thank goodness. And thanks for sharing it all with us.

  6. As an artist I can see the absolute beauty in this vocation. What a joy this must be! I loved this story. My Moma was from Napoli and would tell me stories about good and evil. One time I saw one of these shows while visiting Italia. JUST WONderful!!!
    thank you for this story and all the other newsletters.


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