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In this newly released video of the Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders performing with Ringling’s Gold Unit last spring, the brothers Olissio, Gino and Ermes leap on and off the backs of cantering horses, turning somersaults and back flips with ease. Ringling skipped Coney Island in 2011, but we met Olissio Zoppe when he was here for a few days last July with Circus Vidbel.

At the Coney Island History Project, Olissio vaulted onto the Steeplechase horse’s back in a split second when asked to pose for the photo shown below. Circus people never cease to amaze. Olissio and his brothers have been acrobatic equestrians since boyhood and their skill goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. If the ceiling had been taller, we bet he would have done a somersault on the horse’s back and landed on his feet–even in flip flops!

Olissio Zoppe Rides the Steeplechase Horse. July 9, 2011. Photo © Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved

Are the Zamperla Zoppe troupe, who are distantly related to the Zamperla family of Luna Park, returning for an encore performance? Will there be a circus in Coney Island in 2012? It’s unlikely since the lot where Ringling’s Coney Island Boom-A-Ring and Illuscination played in 2009 and 2010 has become the temporary home of the Seaside Summer Concert Series. The City-owned lot where Circus Vidbel played is the site of the new Speed Zone amusement park set to open this season.

Thor Equities brought in Cole Brothers Circus in 2007 and Reithoffer Shows and other attractions in 2008, but that’s ancient history. Since Joe Sitt got his rezoning for 30-story hotels and retail, we haven’t noticed any press releases saying “Thor is fully committed to the amusement industry.” In 2012, there are still a few empty lots in Coney Island big enough for a big top, but they’re held by real estate speculators. The saying “May All of Your Days Be Circus Days!” is one we don’t expect to hear in Coney Island this season.

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July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

June 21, 2011: Zamperla-Zoppe Riders Coming to Zamperla’s Coney Island

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

August 20, 2009: Q & A with Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus Star Justin Case

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When Circus Vidbel opens in Coney Island on July 4, one of the featured acts will be the famed Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders, whose skill as equestrian acrobats goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. The brothers Olissio, 32; Gino, 23; and Ermes, 19, will be performing here all summer in Vidbel’s ring with Ambra Zerbini and their Percheron draft crosses and a Paso Fino.

Asked if the Zamperla-Zoppe brothers were related to the ride manufacturing Zamperlas from Vicenza who operate Luna Park, Olissio said they were third cousins, but have never met. “I very much look forward to meeting them,” he added, and was delighted when we told him that Alberto and his son Antonio were frequently seen in Coney Island.

ATZ spoke with Olissio by phone from Louisiana, where the Zamperla-Zoppes were winding up a three-month tour with Ringling’s Gold Unit, which played Coney Island for the past two summers, but bowed out this year. Earlier this month, we confirmed with Valerio Ferrari, CEO of Zamperla’s Central Amusement International, the operators of Luna Park and Scream Zone, that CAI would be bringing in the Circus Vidbel for a one-year deal.

Zamperla-Zoppe Riders. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts - Ma'Ceo

“I’m terrifically excited to be coming to Coney Island, I’ve done some shows with Vidbel before,” Olissio Zoppe told ATZ. The brothers have also performed either individually or as a troupe with Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Gilles St. Croix’s Cheval Theatre, Olissio’s equestrian extravaganza “Fratelli,” Orlando’s Arabian Nights Show and at numerous state fairs and Renaissance festivals.

According to Olissio, the Zamperla family began to branch out a couple of generations ago when Alberto Zamperla’s grandfather, also named Alberto, built the family’s first ride.  Said Ollisio, “Way back, his father Antonio had a circus and they also had a traveling movie theatre inside the tent.” Olissio recalled that his late grandfather, Napoleone Zamperla, was visited in Florida by Alberto Zamperla’s father Antonio, the founder of the ride company. They were first cousins, Olissio said. Now the circus equestrian side and the amusement ride manufacturing side of the Zamperla family will be reintroduced to each other this summer in Coney Island.

The video above shows the Zamperla-Zoppe Riders’ bravura reunion performance before an audience of fans and friends in Sarasota, the home of the American circus and the brothers’ hometown.  They perform somersaults from one galloping horse to another and other daring feats with passion and authenticity that truly seem to come from another century. Their website speaks of “celebrating a tradition that stems from the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. A tradition as grand as the Coliseum that was built to contain it. An eternity ago it thrived, but for centuries since, it was but an empty shell. However, that which once left spectators breathless and amazed, the very Heart of Rome, lives on today.”

Napoleone Zamperla (1926-2009) and his family performed the Roman Bareback Riding Act. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts

The Circus Vidbel will also feature Susan Vidbel-Ashton, aerial cloud swing and lyra acts; Mike Ashton, foot juggling and live music; The Fabulous Darnells Magic and Dog Acts; Tevin Delmonte, Rolla Bolla and Clowning; Peggy Mills and Nino Murillo, Archery; and Guiming Meng, Vase Juggler.

The Big Top will  set up on the City’s Stillwell parcel across from the new Scream Zone. According to the press release on the Circus Fans of America website, performances are scheduled from July 4 through Labor Day. Shows are Tuesday through Friday at 4, 6, and 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 3 and 6 pm. The circus has Monday off. Tickets cost $10 and will be available for purchase before showtime.

Update, July 17…

The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th and then will be hitting the road again. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

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July 10, 2011: Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island

June 3, 2011: Vidbel Circus Coming to Coney Island in One-Year Deal

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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