Zoppé Family Circus carries on its tradition

click to enlarge Zoppé Family Circus carries on its tradition
(Zoppé Circus/Submitted)
Giovanni Zoppé and his family’s circus appear in the big top in the parking lot near Congress Street and Avenida del Convento in the Mercado District through Sunday, Jan. 22.

Giovanni Zoppé has traveled the world as Nino the Clown in his Zoppé Family Circus.

Crowds have watched him and his fellow performers in awe. However, lately, he’s witnessed — still — a nation divided. He’s hoping to bring folks together with Zoppé Family Circus’ new show “Liberta.”

They set up their big top in the parking lot on the corner of Congress and Avenida del Convento in the Mercado District. The 2023 run features 24 performances between Friday, Jan. 6, and Sunday, Jan. 22, including two shorter, discounted performances on Friday mornings.

“The word, ‘liberta,’ means freedom,” Giovanni said. “It also means all for one, one for all. Unity. With all the stuff happening right now in the world, we need this. We’re human beings doing terrible things to other human beings. We need to try to pull us all together as much as we can.”

Zoppé history

The Zoppés welcome guests into its 500-seat tent for their show that stars Nino the clown. The circus is propelled by a central story, instead of individual acts, that features acrobatic feats, equestrian showmanship, canine capers and clowning.

“Circus is about family,” Giovanni said. “It’s about joy, honesty, reality. You cannot get the same feeling from any other event. Circus is so real. There’s nothing fake about it. We’re performing, yes, but we are acting as ourselves.

“We’re all actors. We’re all artists. It’s not like when you see a play and Bob is playing Jim. Bob here is playing Bob. Plus, Bob can do a double somersault. Our family is inviting your family to our home.”

Besides bringing Nino the clown to life, Giovanni is the circus’ director and a sixth-generation performer.

The Zoppé Family Circus was founded in 1842 when a young French street performer, Napoline Zoppé, wandered into a plaza in Budapest, Hungary, looking for work.

There, he met an equestrian ballerina named Ermenegilda, who captured his heart. However, Napoline was a clown and Ermenegilda’s father disapproved of the relationship.

The two ran away to Venice, Italy, and founded the circus. Almost a century ago, Alberto Zoppé, Napoline’s great-grandson inherited the circus.

During Alberto’s travels, he met actor/director Orson Welles, who persuaded Alberto to appear in the film “The Greatest Show on Earth.” He remained in America, producing circuses for Ringling and starting his own family.

With his wife, Sandra, Alberto carried on the family tradition in the United States with his children, Giovanni, Tosca and Carla, and their spouses.

This year, in Tucson, Ilario Zoppé, Giovanni’s 19-month-old son, is winning audiences over.

“Every show is different,” Giovanni said. “He comes into the ring. He starts in preshow and runs all over the place, causing havoc in the ring. He’s real.

“I started this thing a couple days ago. I play with my hat a lot. I took my hat off and he did the same. He plays a mini-me. He stood in the ring and looked at me for 2 minutes. It was a long 2 minutes. I was thinking, ‘Come on. Let’s go. Let’s do something.’ The audience went bananas, and he did a front rollover.”

The common theme throughout the years is inclusiveness.

“Everybody is welcome to our show,” Giovanni said. “We’re hoping we can unite people. We want everybody to come—no matter which language they speak, which color they are or who they choose to love or any of that.

“We’re all human beings in this world. We’re here to survive and be happy. Our show is about pulling everyone together as one people and encouraging that, meaning we want to live in peace. The boy in India, the boy in Africa, the boy or girl in France — we’re all the same. We’re from different places and to start wars, it’s just crazy. We’re trying to pull everyone together as much as we can.”

Zoppé Family Circus

WHEN: Various times through Sunday, Jan. 22

WHERE: Big top in the parking lot near Congress Street and Avenida del Convento in the Mercado District

COST: $25, $45 ringside, free for children ages 3 and younger; 10 a.m. short program, $15, $30 ringside, free for children ages 3 and younger

INFO: zoppe.net

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