“Corre, corre, Tia Norica.” Tia (Aunt) Norica first pranced across a stage for audiences in Cadiz in the early 1800s.
With a cast of carved wooden figures, artist Pedro Montenegro began staging plays to entertain audiences in 1815. Early shows included the story of the Nativity, Isabel II and Libertad. Tia Norica soon managed to work her way into every play, becoming the audience favorite. The star marionette even merited her own comic sketch, El Sainete de Tia Norica.
The puppet company continued through the years under various directors. Electric lights and retablos for backdrops were added for productions by the early 1900s. And new plays and puppets continued to expand the repertoire.
Some of the charming rod and string puppets made their way to the permanent collection of the Museo de Cadiz in 1978.
“Descendants” of these puppets still are used for festival performances, so Tia Norica retains legions of fans.
No puppeteer is even needed for these older puppets to enchant. My imagination has assigned Tia Norica a voice similar to Robin Williams portraying Mrs. Doubtfire – with a Spanish accent.
The figure of Sancho Panza astride his donkey makes one wonder if the Cadiz puppeteer’s version of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic skipped over Part II, Chapter XXVI, when Master Pedro stages a puppet show for Don Quixote. In the book, Don Quixote was carried away during an attack by Moors in Master Pedro’s play:
Don Quixote, however, seeing such a swarm of Moors and hearing such a din, thought it would be right to aid the fugitives, and standing up he exclaimed in a loud voice, “Never, while I live, will I permit foul play to be practiced in my presence on such a famous knight and fearless lover as Don Gaiferos. Halt! ill-born rabble, follow him not nor pursue him, or ye will have to reckon with me in battle!” and suiting the action to the word, he drew his sword, and with one bound placed himself close to the show, and with unexampled rapidity and fury began to shower down blows on the puppet troop of Moors, knocking over some, decapitating others, maiming this one and demolishing that; and among many more he delivered one down stroke which, if Master Pedro had not ducked, made himself small, and got out of the way, would have sliced off his head as easily as if it had been made of almond-paste….
Don Quixote did not leave off discharging a continuous rain of cuts, slashes, downstrokes, and backstrokes, and at length, in less than the space of two credos, he brought the whole show to the ground, with all its fittings and figures shivered and knocked to pieces, King Marsilio badly wounded, and the Emperor Charlemagne with his crown and head split in two.
A miniature practice round for the windmills that lay in the knight’s path down the road. So happy Tia Norica was spared such an encounter.