The car sliced through the thick fog as we drove down the long dirt road on Nantucket island, babies in the back seat of the car cooing in anticipation of something exciting about to happen. Suddenly the ghost-like apparition appeared in the near distance, a large white tent with flags calmly blowing in the wind. The Zoppè Italian Family Circus had come to the island again and I was heading there with my sisters, our mother, and all of her grandchildren. We unstrapped babies, diaper bags and our soft colorful Pashmina shawls and descended into a world that appeared to have been frozen in time.
Our family has been watching the Zoppè family perform for years on end, yet the magic continues each year, as it did last night, this time in Snowmass, Colorado.
Once upon a time for a brief period, Giovanni Zoppè, aka Nino the Clown, and his handsome Italian features, comedic flirtations and acrobatic feats charmed one of my siblings and Nino entered our lives. Since then I have been treated as one of his extended family members and go to the circus every year with the knowledge that we may become part of Nino’s act.
This year, as always, we received a warm greeting outside by Giovanni and his family and were gifted lemonade, popcorn and Nino swag and guided to our reserved seats in the front row.
The Zoppè Italian Family Circus History
The Zoppè Italian Family Circus emerged from humble beginnings more than 160 years ago to become one of the legendary circuses in all of Europe. And like many good legends, it began with a boy and a girl falling in love. In 1842, a young French street performer named Napoline Zoppè wandered into a plaza in Budapest, Hungary, looking for work. There, his eyes glanced upon a beautiful equestrian ballerina named Ermenegilda, who captured the hearts and minds of the crowd with her grace and showmanship. More important, this talented beauty captured Napoline’s heart. However, since Napoline was a clown, Ermenegilda’s father saw him as beneath her and disapproved of their relationship. The two ran away to Venice, Italy, and founded the circus that still bears their name. Over the generations, the circus survived wars and political upheaval in Italy and the rest of Europe. Alberto Zoppè, Napoline’s great-grandson, inherited the circus almost 100 years later. A grand equestrian in his own right, Alberto toured Europe with the circus since his youth, forging many unique friendships along the way, including one with famed actor/director Orson Welles. Welles, who was working in Rome at the time, persuaded Alberto to take a role in a small film about the circus being shot in London. Alberto was then offered a job by John Ringling North of Ringling Brothers fame, who was putting together the circus acts for Cecil B. Demille’s Oscar-winning film, The Greatest Show on Earth. Alberto was hesitant to leave his family circus in Italy for America, but North was persistent and offered to loan the family circus an elephant for the show as long as Alberto worked for him. He obliged and was prominently featured in the film. Alberto would remain in America, producing circuses for Ringling and starting his own family. Together with his wife Sandra, Alberto has ushered in a new generation to continue the family tradition. Their children, Giovanni, Tosca and Carla, along with their spouses, have all been active at one time or another in the family business. Giovanni revived the Zoppè Family Circus in America three years ago, and has since been building its reputation with audiences and critics as an enchanting exhibition of traditional European circus.
As one who once was saddened by the sorry looking animals in the big circuses we used to watch back in Massachusetts, this circus is a departure from my past. The animals are healthy and proud and feel loved. From the start the intimacy that Giovanni and his family evote make you also feel as though you are loved and they engage with you as if you are a part of the show, not just simply an observer.
The Zoppé circus evokes something from a picture book: the clown, the trapeze, the dancing dogs, the ring and the tent. The show is frozen in a time long before the high-concept, high-dollar Cirque du Soleil, which has opened its fourth resident show in Las Vegas. The New York Times
Giovanni Zoppé is not just any ole clown. He is an incredible athlete who has not been deterred by his near-death experiences. “I have an angel who watches over me,” he said on Saturday night after the show while our seven boys were hovering over him not wanting his comedic brilliance to end. From falling 30 feet in the middle of a comic aerialist act and ending up in a coma for four days; falling headfirst doing a 180-degree turn on a high wire; falling off a horse while leaping over flaming poles in front of more than 1,000 spectators; and surviving a car accident where he was thrown through the window to land [almost] unscathed as large particles from a rolling truck flew all around him, his passion for the circus keeps him….clowning around.
Although Zoppé shares his family’s background in equestrian performance -his bio notes that, when he was 9, he became the youngest performer ever to do a somersault on horseback – he prefers comedy. He became a professional clown when he was 10, but his first comic appearance came much earlier,when he was 2. “In the middle of one of my family’s performances,” he says, “I was in a trailer (near the circus tent) and I broke away from the baby-sitter and ran into the middle of the ring, where I took a bow in front of the audience – completely naked. The crowd roared.” In many ways, Zoppé still retains a bit of the 2-year-old in his clown persona. “My character name, Nino, was actually my nickname when I was younger,” he says. “In Italian families, when you are a boy, they attach ‘-ino’ to your name, and so I was ‘Giovannino – Nino.’ I am really just a big kid, and ‘Nino’ is really just me, my child self, a human being with flaws – except larger, playing all of my faults larger. So when I stumble a lot (in the show), I am just exaggerating normal clumsiness, and when Nino gets angry, it’s just my own temper, but bigger.” It’s that all-too-human quality that led Circus Flora artistic director David Balding to decide to make Nino the centerpiece of this year’s show. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 18 – August 20 | 73 Wood Rd, Snowmass Village, CO 81615
$20 – $75
The Zoppé Italian Family Circus welcomes guests into the intimate 500 seat tent for a one-ring circus that honors the best history of the Old-World Italian tradition. Starring Nino the clown, the circus is propelled by a central story (as opposed to individual acts) that feature acrobatic feats, equestrian showmanship, canine capers, clowning and plenty of audience participation. This intimate theatrical show has been entertaining audiences for seven generations with an enchanting exhibition of European Circus.
Friday – 4PM, 7PM
Saturday – 1PM, 4PM, 7PM
Sunday – 1PM, 4PM
GENERAL ADMISSION $20 (bleacher seating)
VIP $50 (2nd row (B) chair seating)
VIP Premier $75 (front row ringside (A) includes reserved chair seating, advanced entry into tent and choice of 2 concessions)