Florence is famous for its wealth of culture. From its breath-taking Renaissance art to its delicious cuisine, or from its long history to its glorious Tuscan landscapes there is more than enough to fill a lifetime. But did you know that an Italian wrote the first opera in Florence and it was performed there in the late 1500s? And today the city is home to some wonderful music, concerts and venues. So if you’re planning a visit why not check out the opera in Florence for a memorable addition to your trip.
The birth of opera in Florence
During the 1570s and 80s the Florentine Camerata, or Camerata de’ Bardi, a group of musicians, poets and humanists, was experimenting with new styles in music. They developed the use of dramatic lyrics and melodic music to tell a story.
Around the same time a young Roman composer named Jacopo Peri and born in 1561 moved to Florence to study music. He met his first patron, Jacopo Corsi, in the city and the two quickly decided to stage an homage to Greek tragedy, similar in style to the Florentine Camarata’s music. They invited local Florentine poet, Ottavio Rinuccini to write the lyrics to accompany their music and tell the story of Daphne, the Greek nymph with whom Apollo falls in love. What resulted was a “work”, literally translated as an “opera” in Italian, called Dafne staged by a small ensemble of musicians in 1597.
Florence’s elite ruling Medici family was so captivated with the new opera that Peri’s next work Euridice, telling the story of Orfeo who loved Euridice so much that he was happy to literally cross to Hell and back, was commissioned for the prestigious marriage of Maria de Medici to King Henry IV of France in 1600. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Since then music, and particularly opera, has played a large part in Florence’s history and today the city has a thriving music scene with several concert venues. So if you’re a fan of opera or want to try your first operatic experience, here are 4 operatic initiatives providing a perfect initiation to the Florentine tradition.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Described as the Florentine temple of music, the modern Teatro dell’Opera di Firenze provides the main home for the Maggio Musicale Florentino opera, ballet and arts festival running throughout the year. The theater sits on the western flank of the city between the historic center and Cascine Park and, together with the Teatro Goldoni, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce and the Museo Casa Martelli, provides the city with an outstanding operatic calendar.
This summer there is an added bonus as many of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival’s concerts will be played in the stunning cortile or courtyard of the city’s enormous noble Pitti Palace. Nice!
The palace dates from 1458 and is renowned for its formal gardens, vast labyrinth of rooms packed with Renaissance treasures and ultimate luxury. It was originally built by a Florentine banker, as his “town house,” and later owned by the ruling Medici family, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and even Napoleon during his short Italian campaign.
Today the porticoed courtyard, at the heart of the palace, provides a spectacular open-air venue for opera in Florence with the gently rising gardens and fountains providing a beautiful backdrop. And with operatic performances of The Barber of Seville, L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) and La Traviata plus classical concerts from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and Stefano Montanari, the sublime violinist, there is an abundance of music to choose from. If you’re searching for a truly Florentine opera experience, the Pitti Palace is ideal and our travel experts are on stand-by to show you to the best seats for an evening of opera in Florence.
Amici Della Musica
Founded in 1920, the Amici della Musica or Friends of Music is one of the oldest and most prestigious concert groups in Florence. The group presents some of the best works and performers on the international scene. And its home is the beautiful Teatro della Pergola, Florence’s oldest theater built in in 1656, so you can enjoy a wonderful Florentine evening from boxes once maintained for the private entertainment of the city’s aristocracy and social elite.
This year their programme, split between the Teatro della Pergola and Teatro Niccolini is packed with some of the most accomplished musicians around. Highlights include piano visionary Michael Brown, the Guadagnini Quartet and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley. Or why not check out the rest of the wide-ranging Amici della Musica schedule here; with over 50 concerts to choose from you’re bound to have an evening to remember.
Musica In Maschera
Another of Florence’s operatic initiatives is Musica in Maschera, based at the celebrated Teatro Auditorium al Duomo in the historic centre. Just a few steps from Florence’s stunning Duomo, Music in Maschera presents wonderful operas each year. This year’s highlights are Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata and a Gala evening of the most romantic pieces from opera and ballet. With an exceptional cast of sopranos, tenors and dancers the gala will be an exceptional evening of Verdi, Puccini, Offenbach and Tchaikovsky. Perfetto!
And there are a couple of different ways to enjoy your evening of opera in Florence. Why not kick off La Traviata in style with an aperitivo at the 6th floor Terrazza Panoramica Laurus panoramic bar looking out over Florence’s iconic skyline. Or enjoy a light dinner of delicious meats, cheeses and bruschetta, or vegetarian dinner with wine before the gala evening starts. It’s a perfectly Italian way to start your evening, creating memories to treasure.
St. Mark’s Anglican Church
And finally for a truly intimate setting why not try St Mark’s Anglican Church. Founded in 1877 the church is a beautiful architectural gem built originally as part of a palace owned by the Medicis and then the infamous Renaissance strategist and philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli.
Now in its 11th season of “opera at St Mark’s” the church has been delighting visitors with critically acclaimed performances for years. And the best part is that you’re seated only a few meters away from the performers so can enjoy full immersion in the dramatic stories and soaring sopranos’ singing. This year’s programme offers a plethora of the best-loved operas in Italy. From the tragedy of Madame Butterfly to the drama of Carmen, or from La Boheme to the comedy of Don Giovanni, the hardest part will be choosing your ideal evening! Encore!
Time to take your seats ladies and gentlemen!
Florence inspired the first opera so an evening of music is the perfect way to experience this truly Florentine tradition. And whether you are an aficionado or an opera first-timer, our travel experts can help you to choose the best evening to suit your tastes. Leave us a comment with your favorite operatic moments and in the meantime an evening of drama and music awaits! Enjoy!