Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla & Figli
In the late 18th century, the rich Milanese businessman Giovanbattista Colla arranged for a hall in his palace to be fitted out for him to stage puppet shows for his own enjoyment. But political developments resulted in financial catastrophe for the Colla family, forcing them to leave Milan at the beginning of the 19th century, and the puppet theatre became the family’s main professional activity.
It was Giovanbattista’s son Giuseppe who founded the puppet company, and when he died in 1861, his sons Antonio, Carlo and Giovanni continued the family tradition, though each with his own separate company. This marked the founding of the Compagnia Carlo Colla & Figli. In 1889, Carlo Colla’s eldest son, Carlo Jr, assumed the management of their travelling troupe at the age of just 16. Working together with his siblings Rosina, Giovanni and Michele, Carlo Jr achieved a standard of performance that made a great impression on audiences.
The Compagnia enjoyed such a resounding success that they were soon giving guest performances in important cultural centres. They made their debut at the renowned Teatro Gerolamo in Milan in 1906. This venue had been built in 1868 specifically for performances with marionettes, and became the permanent home of the Compagnia in 1911. The Collas also took on the management of the theatre itself, which was the only theatre in Milan, apart from La Scala, that offered a permanent programme at the time.
The Compania was forced to leave the Teatro Gerolamo in 1957 when it was under threat from municipal building projects. After a break of a few years, they resumed their activities as an independent organization in 1965. Eugenio Monti Colla – the last member of the puppeteering family to have worked at the Teatro Gerolamo – was appointed the company’s artistic director, remaining in this position until his death in November 2017. His successor is the set designer and sculptor Franco Citterio.
Since 1984, the Compagnia Carlo Colla & Figli has been run by the Associazione Grupporiani, which is responsible for its productions, and organizes guest performances all over the world.
In Milan, the Compagnia’s performances take place at the Atelier Carlo Colla & Figli, at the Teatro Gerolamo and at the Piccolo Teatro; since 2000, the Compagnia has enjoyed a close collaborative relationship with the last of these, thanks to its director Sergio Escobar. The Compagnia has performed at the Piccola Scala, the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto and at major international festivals and prestigious theatres in Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Sydney, New York, Charleston and elsewhere.
The Compagnia’s major productions of recent years include Macbeth (a co-production with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Haydn’s puppet opera Philemon und Baucis (which was awarded the Premio Abbiati by the Association of Italian Music Critics), Handel’s Rinaldo and Giustino and Puccini’s Turandot. In 2021, the Compagnia created several projects as part of the celebrations for the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death, including the production Una divina commedia at the Piccolo Teatro Grassi in Milan. It also presented the premiere of its production of Pinocchio. In that same year, the MuTeF (Museo del Teatro di Figura), which was founded in collaboration with the Compagnia, opened with the exhibition Le figure di Dante. This was followed in 2022 by the exhibition Aida e i popoli di legno to mark the 150th anniversary of the Italian premiere of Verdi’s Aida at La Scala in Milan.