Italian puppeteer from Turin, founder of the Teatro Gerolamo (Gerolamo Theatre) of Milan. Giuseppe Fiando was the greatest marionette showman of his time. He created the stock character of Gerolamo and made him part of tradition.
The earliest information about his activities dates from 6 December 1786, the date of a request for permission to give performances in Turin with his marionette show throughout the Carnival season. In July 1789, he was still in the Savoy capital (which we may assume to be his birthplace) where he had a two-month season at the San Rocco theatre. He then moved to Milan, perhaps for political reasons, and worked first in a room attached to the Dazio Grande Inn. Between 1795 and 1816, he occupied various venues, ending up in the former Bellarmino oratory which was transformed into a theatre designed by Luigi Canonica.
Within a short time the Fiando theatre was sufficiently well known to be mentioned in every travel guide, both Italian and French, thus becoming a required stop for travellers of the time, amongst whom were the Goncourt brothers and Gustave Flaubert. The latter left a delightful description of it in his Notes de voyage: “The ballet is especially enchanting. The simpleton, the mountebank, the horse that paws the ground, and the ballerinas who elevate themselves in graceful poses: from the back of the pit the illusion is perfect. After a while one ends up taking the show seriously and believing that they are human beings; a real world of a different sort rises up in front of you and mixes with your own sothat you wonder whether you are living the same life as they are, or whether they are living the same life as you. Even in quiet moments it is hard toconvince oneself that they are anything other than wood; that these painted faces are not animated with human feelings; and in looking at the costumes one cannot imagine that there is not a heart under them.”
From descriptions one can deduce that what aroused the greatest sense of wonder were the perfection with which the movements imitated life and the impressive scale of the production which was such as to offer serious competition to the big theatres. A first example of this was the staging in 1815 of Le creature di Prometeo (The Creations of Prometheus), Salvatore Vigano’s famous ballet set to music by Beethoven, which had been produced at La Scala only two years earlier. The character of Gerolamo probably made his first Milanese appearance that year too in the performance of a fairy tale based on Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi’s Il mostro turchino (The Blue Monster, 1764). This was an immediate success. Fiando must have given a splendid performance if his Piedmontese character managed to conquer Milan, at that period a “foreign” territory.
Problems continued however and in 1865 Fiando had to find himself another theatre. The Bellarmino was knocked down, but only three years later a new theatre was opened on the Piazza Beccaria and this took the name of the Teatro Gerolamo, in honour of the character who had made Fiando so famous. The opening show was Gerolamo maestro di musica (Gerolamo Conductor), followed by the ballet Gli amanti burlati (The Lovers Tricked).
Fiando would die soon after that and the management of the company passed to his grandson Angelo, who did not really continue on a regular basis as a showman, but preferred to let the theatre to other marionette showmen such as Luciano and Rinaldo Zane and the Colla family of showmen. In 1910, the theatre was finally taken over by the Carlo Colla e Figli company who abandoned their own stock character of Famiola for that of Gerolamo to indicate the continuity of the enterprise. This was not a particularly traumatic change, considering that both characters were characterized by Piedmontese dialect.
- Cipolla, Alfonso, and Giovanni Moretti. I fili della memoria. Percorsi per una storia delle marionette in Piemonte [The Strands of Memory. Paths to a History of Puppets in Piedmont]. Torino: SEB 27, 2001.
- McCormick, John, with Alfonso Cipolla and Alessandro Napoli. The Italian Puppet Theater – A History. Jefferson (NC): McFarland & Co., 2010.
- Morgan, Sydney. Italy by Lady Morgan. London: H. Colburn, 1821.
- Sanguinetti, Lamberto. Il Teatro Gerolamo. Milano, 1967.