Family of Italian puppeteers active in Emilia in the area around Modena from the first decades of the 19th century to the first decades of the 20th. The first of the sixteen puppeteers in the family was Giulio Preti (Rolo Modenese, Italy, 1804-1882), the son of a cabinet-maker and a cabinet-maker himself: a profession that led him naturally to the making of puppets. He was able to give value to this penchant by studying drawing at the ducal academy in Modena. Having met Luigi Campogalliani and his children, Giulio Preti became a puppeteer and for nearly half a century was one of the most popular ones in his home territory.
Giulio Preti married Ermenegilda, the daughter of Campogalliani, from whom he inherited the “mask” (maschera, stock character) of Sandrone that would become his favourite character. He endowed this rough and simple character who could not speak correctly with a wife, Pulonia, and some features of his own nature which was gentle and, as he writes in his memoirs, “his natural kindness and education made him opposed to political satire and even more to religious satire”. He adds to this, “My voice is clear and carrying. I was made famous by my ability to perform any of the Italian ‘masks’ in the most disparate dialects, by the extraordinary quality of my shows with their dances and interludes, by the puppets that brought variety to the performances and by the exceptional skill of my wife.” In fact, he became so celebrated that he was engaged to perform at the Este court and was able to count the Emperor Franz-Josef amongst his audience.
Apart from farces with Sandrone as the main character, his repertoire included adventure stories and popular tales taken from literary texts.
His eldest son, Guglielmo (1831-1913), whilst performing the role of Sgorghiguelo (Sgurghéguel), a character invented for him by his father, wanted to give a more modern flavour to the shows. He often excluded the “masks” (maschere) and gave more importance to historical subjects, which could be performed in several parts. This was a way in which the audience could be held in suspense. The Teatro dei Pupi, for example, spread Giuseppe Balsamo, conte di Cagliostro over thirty-two evenings and Le aventure di Rocambole (The Adventures of Rocambole) lasted two and a half months.
Among Giulio Preti’s sons it is necessary to mention Carlo (1834-1914), known as “Carlone”, who had a rather special audience as he worked in Salsomaggiore, a spa frequented by actors and writers. There followed other sons and grandsons up to Roberto Preti who worked intermittently during the 20th century.
- Bergonzini, Renato, Cesare Maletti, and Beppe Zagaglia. Burattini e burattinai. Modena: Mundici e Zanetti, 1980.
- Cavicchioli, Giovanni, Sandrone e il suo papa [Sandrone and His Dad]. Milano/Modena: Artioli Editore, 1962.
- McCormick, John, with Alfonso Cipolla and Alessandro Napoli. The Italian Puppet Theater – A History. Jefferson (NC): McFarland & Co., 2010.
- Valdrighi, Luigi Francesco. Autobiografia di un burattinaio. Modena, 1883.