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Vittorio Podrecca
1883–1959

The creator of the greatest puppet company in the world

Vittorio Podrecca was born in Cividale del Friuli on 26th April 1883, in a family where everyone was interested in some kind of art, especially music and theatre. When he was young he had the opportunity to see the performances of some of the traditional puppet and marionettes shows by the Reccardini company and others. These encounters deeply influenced him. After graduating in law, he moved with his family to Rome.

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View of Cividale del Friuli, end of the 19th century. SOMSI Cividale del Friuli Archive – Fondo Bront

The adventure begins

After managing and editing two cultural magazines – “Primavera” and “L’Italia Orchestrale” – Podrecca founded "Teatro dei Piccoli" at the Odescalchi Palace in Rome together with Luigi Fornaciari and Giovanni Santoro. He collaborated with some of the most famous puppetry families of the time as well and with promising musicians and painters. The success of the company was so huge that they were invited to perform for the royal family only two months after the first premiere.

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Vittorio Podrecca

Globetrotting puppets 

“Teatro dei Piccoli” was highly innovative because it mixed experimentation and tradition, so that both children and adults could enjoy it. The first international tour brought the company to South America, to countries such as Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. It would be the first of a long series of tours. In the same year Ottorino Respighi composed "Sleeping Beauty” especially for the Piccoli, which toured all over the world.

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Sketches for “Sleeping Beauty” by Bruno Angoletta

The turning point 

“The Piccoli” went to Great Britain for a one-year tour. Podrecca had to find a replacement for one of the singers and so he engaged the Irish soprano singer Cisse Vaughan, who decided to join the company. They eventually married and she changed her name to Lia Podrecca.

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New Scala Theatre, London 1923

»From the smallest to the greatest«  

After a performance in Warsaw, Polish premier Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), once a famous pianist, decided to give a tribute to his “counterpart”, the Piccolowski marionette. He went on stage to offer his congratulations to the little artist.

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Carlo Farinelli, Piccolowski and Vittorio Podrecca

From Broadway to Hollywood

Sol Hurok was impressed by the performances of the “Piccoli” in Paris in 1929 and decided to book them for a tour in the United States. After performing on Broadway for three months, they began to travel around the country. Among others they visited Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore and Hollywood. They travelled also to Canada.

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Advertising poster with members of the company, New York, 1933

Action!

The “Piccoli” worked on the movie “I am Suzanne”, starring Lilian Harvey. They came back to New York at the beginning of 1934, and while they were performing at the Metropolitan, the movie was screened at the Paramount. It was a great ending to their American experience. They also worked on another movie entitled »Donde Mueren las Palabras« by Hugo Fregonese.

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Vittorio Podrecca in Hollywood with some of the “Sleeping Beauty” marionettes, 1934

Back to Italy after 14 years

From 1937 the “Piccoli” actively performed in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Cuba and Mexico). In 1940 they were also back again in the USA. The start of World War II forced the company to flee to South America, where they stayed for more than 12 years, until political and economic circumstances allowed them to return to Italy.

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Vittorio Podrecca in Ecuador. The trunks on the truck contain the marionettes and the material used for the performances.

A new adventure. The Piccoli at the Piccola Scala of Milan

A new rendition of “El Retablo de Maese Pedro”​ by Manuel De Falla marked the start of the new company, named the »Nucleo Musicale«​ by Podrecca, which concentrated on musical performances, while the main company continued touring around the world. Other shows were “Ma Mere l’Oye” by Ravel, “La Boîte à Joujoux” by Debussy, “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev.

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A scene from “El retablo de Maese Pedro” by De Falla, Milan 1956

Through the iron curtain. The marionettes as messengers of peace.

In the year of his last masterpiece, Podrecca obtained permission to perform in the Soviet Union. The “Piccoli” were the first western company to be allowed to travel there. This was Podrecca’s last success. He died a month before the tour started. The “Piccoli” continued their adventures until 1965, led by his wife Lia Podrecca and her son Carlo Farinelli.

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Clip from the movie “Circo”, director Alberto Ancilotto, 1952