Traditional Portuguese glove puppet theatre. Its principal figure, Dom Roberto, as well as other European popular heroes such as the famous Pulcinella, found their origins in this theatre. However, the character does not have a specific aspect or appearance as each puppeteer created his own Dom Roberto and, in general, the puppets did not resemble one another except for their dark pink tone widely used in Northern Portugal’s traditional pottery.
Dom Roberto possesses some similarities with other Polichinelles and Punches and their like (see Polichinelle, Punch, etc.): its personality, its relation with death, its use of power (wielding the stick), its relationship with authority, and its tendency to sarcasm, immorality and cruelty. The repertoire was inspired from European tradition and popular Portuguese plays from the “teatro de cordel” (literally “string theatre”, published as chapbooks, attached to strings to prevent their being stolen from their blind vendors), that were already in existence for three centuries at the fairs and folk festivals, on the beaches and in the streets. The most famous play is O Barbeiro (The Barber), in which Dom Roberto is mightier than death.
The puppets are manipulated by only one person inside the stage and the impressive rhythm of movements call for great skill.
The puppeteer makes use of a swazzle, placed under his palate, which significantly reduces the amount of sounds that can be correctly vocalized. The name of Roberto itself resulted in a particular vocabulary with “rrr” sounding words accompanied by strange sounds and onomatopoeias. Unlike other traditional European theatre, all characters speak through the use of the swazzle.
The origin of the name is associated with a famous 19th century puppet show entrepreneur, Roberto Xavier de Mattos, but may also come from a successful popular comedy, O Roberto e o Diabo (Roberto and the Devil). Today, the word robertos refers to Portuguese glove puppet theatre.
From the last generation of travelling puppeteers, the most famous was undoubtedly Master António Dias (19?-1986), who imparted his experience to João Paulo Seara Cardoso (1956-2010) who accompanied him until the end of his career and recreated his entire repertoire.
- Branco, Pedro. Notas para a História dos Bonifrates, Presépios, Fantoches e Marionetas em Portugal [Notes for the History of Bonifrates, Nativity Scenes, Puppets and Marionettes in Portugal]. Oeiras: Cadernos da Biblioteca Operária Oeirense, 1983.[S]
- Cardoso, João Paulo Seara. Teatro Dom Roberto: Breve História e Notas [Don Roberto Theatre: Brief History and Notes]. Porto: Teatro de Marionetas do Porto, [n.d.].[S]
- Delgado, Henrique. “Bonifrates”. Dicionário do Teatro Português. Ed. Luíz Francisco Rebello. Vol. I: A-L. Lisboa: Prelo, 1978.
- Dias, Marina Tavares. Lisboa Desaparecida [Missing Lisbon]. Vol. 2. Lisboa: Quimera, 1990.
- 1º Festival Internacional de Marionetas do Porto. Porto: [n.p.], 1989.
- Vieira, Luís. “Marioneta, títere, fantoche, roberto, bonifrate, bonecro…” Museu da Marioneta. Catálogo. Lisboa: Museu da Marioneta/EGEAC, 2005.