‘Meeting of hearts and minds’

Over the years I have wrote many articles about the circus, but never was I touched as much as I was with this one. Sandra is such a sweet woman and I loved the interview we had. The picture she painted of their life was beautiful . . . this family found their passion, brining joy to other people’s life through the circus.

Article published in the SanTan Sun News Dec. 21, 2013 issue

Witness an Italian tradition under the big top Dec. 25 to Jan. 5

A 170-year-old family circus will head to Chandler to do what it loves most— make people smile and forget about their worries.

“It all started in 1842 in Italy, seven generations ago,” Sandra Zoppé says of her husband Alberto Zoppé’s Italian Family Circus.

The circus’ beginnings are rooted in a romance between a French street clown and a Hungarian ballerina.

“It all started when a French street clown wandered into a plaza in Budapest, Hungary, and witnessed a beautiful Hungarian ballerina performing ballet on horseback and he was in awe of her,” Sandra says. “He instantly fell in love.”

Unfortunately for the clown, the ballerina’s father rejected him. However, with his persistence, he won the ballerina’s heart. They wed and moved to Italy. The duo performed with the circus for the first time in front of St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Venice.

“They set up a ring and performed there,” Sandra explains. “They founded the first circus in Italy back then. That was the beginning.”

The circus continued for many years in Italy, even through the wars. Sandra says her husband’s parents had 16 children, all involved in the circus. The area was bombed during the war and, between that and disease, killed many of the kids.

Alberto eventually became one of the most sought-after equestrian artists in Italy.

“He was known as the only person in the world that ever performed a layout,” Sandra says.

Alberto did a somersault off of one galloping horse onto another.

In 1949, Alberto was asked to be in the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as a circus artist. He signed an agreement with Johnny North with Ringling Brothers Circus saying if it supplied an elephant for his circus in Italy, he would take part in the movie. The war took a
toll on the lives of elephants.

“Alberto agreed to come to America and then he was going to return to his show in Italy because it was small and he was the star of the show,” Sandra says.

After the movie was filmed, Alberto decided to remain in America and work for Ringling Brothers Circus.

“He agreed to stay here and be their star,” Sandra says.

The Zoppé Italian Family Circus. (Photo provided by the family)

The Zoppé Italian Family Circus. (Photo provided by the family)

Eventually Alberto left the Ringling Brothers Circus and carried on his family’s circus. Sandra and Alberto met at a variety show, fell in love and married in 1963.

They have three children, Carla, Giovanni and Tosca, all of whom are part of the Zoppé circus.

Carla and her husband have a dog act. Tosca took after her father and became an equestrian artist. Giovanni is an aerial clown who performs comedy acts.

“They are all amazing artists,” Sandra says.

About 32 members of the Zoppé circus travel about 10 months per year. This year, they are returning to Chandler.

“We will open the day after Christmas in Chandler,” Sandra says.

Sandra promises those who attend a show will be amazed.

“We are there to give them our hearts and as we perform we share a meeting of hearts and minds because they give theirs back to us,” she says. “The circus is sweet. It’s not harsh or rude.”

The Zoppé Italian Family Circus is in town from Thu., Dec. 26, to Sun., Jan. 5, at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave. Tickets range from $15 to $38 for its 500-seat tent. A 70-minute Kids’ show will be held at 11 a.m. Fri., Dec. 27, as well as a New Year’s Eve Under the Big Top at 7:30 p.m. Tue., Dec. 31.

“We love what we do because we have one of the greatest jobs on this
Earth,” she says. “That’s to make people happy and make it possible for them to forget all of their problems. They are totally enjoying themselves and their family. There is no greater gift you can give.”