Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival

Discover the history and curiosities about this famous cultural festival in Florence!


The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is a festival organized by the city of Florence, alternating performances of classical music, operas, ballets and plays. Every year il Maggio Florence attracts music and dance enthusiasts with a full program of prestigious names and appointments. The period in which the show usually takes place begins in late April and ends around the first week of July. There are therefore, many opportunities to take advantage of this Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival if your Tuscan holiday takes place in spring or summer!

Events take place at the Opera Florence and the modern teatro Maggio Fiorence. This hall was opened in 2011. It has amazing acoustics and is located near the Cascine Park and the Leopolda station. The Florence, Italy May Music Festival disseminates the many events in other places around the city: Teatro della Pergola, Teatro Goldoni, museums, halls of the music school and other areas of the old town.

After listing information about possible places, let’s enter into the heart of the history of the festival and the famous Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Discover with us on its history and in its highlights!

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

What are the origins of this famous festival? The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino was founded in 1933 following the desire of Luigi Ridolfi Vay da Verrazzano and the teacher and composer Vittorio Gui. Luigi Ridolfi Vay - born in 1895 - was a Florentine marquis of noble descent who is remembered by the city of Florence as a war hero, and especially as a patron for sports and music. Ridolfi Vay adhered to fascism and had a distinguished career as an executive and politician. As well as being the creator of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, he was also the president of the Italian Federation of Athletics and football, Member of the House and through his activities built the municipal stadium in Florence.

In 1933, the year of the founding of the Maggio Musicale, the fascist era in Italy was at its heighest: with the increase of the accession to the party by many politicians and entrepreneurs like Ridolfi Vay, strategies of urban renewal were adopted and new bodies were formed. World War II had not yet started and the government worked to implement cultural and social reforms aimed at expanding Mussolini's dictatorship propaganda and its consent. For this reason, the foundation of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino also saw the contribution of Alessandro Pavolini, fascist ruler and Minister of popular culture in 1939, who was to be the successor of Ridolfi.

On 22 April 1933 the Theatre Comunale Maggio Musicale in Florentino presented Verdi's Rigoletto under the direction of Maestro Gui, continuing with works like Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti, Verdi's Falstaff, La Cenerentola by Rossini and Bellini's I Puritani.

In the early years the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino opera moved to different locations, and for example Mendelssohn’s work, taken from the Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, was held in the outdoors, in the magical Boboli Gardens, under the guidance of the famous Austrian director Max Reinhardt. Another different location was the cloister of Santa Croce Basilica, chosen for 'the Representation of Santa Uliva' by Ildebrando Pizzetti, directed by Copeau.

The direction of the orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino was entrusted to Gui until 1936, after which the role was filled by Bruno Bertoletti until the post-war period. From 1969 until 1981 the director was Riccardo Muti, who was later replaced by the Indian maestro Zubin Mehta, who is still in office and has life honorary. When interviewed about his artistic line of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Mehta said: "we never miss at least one baroque title per year and the works of the bel canto repertoire. Puccini also is always very present. Then we present new and contemporary works that are a tradition of the Festival del Maggio and so we have a good mix. But we must have a budget that allows us to dream like that! "

Why is it called MAGGIO? The festival indicates from its name 'Maggio Musicale Fiorentino' a specific month of the year even if the period of the exhibition covers the month of April and the summer months of June and July. Why is so much focus May? What happens in May? Let’s start from the location where the festival started: Florence. This city has always celebrated spring – the time of rebirth with a variety of rich musical and theatrical events, as well as the presence of folk dancing. The ancient tradition of May Day, also called Cantar Maggio, was a popular festival that took place on the first of May. The arrival of the summer months was celebrated with the ritual of flowering on 1st May: the people of Florence brought in procession the 'maggi', i.e. tree branches laden with flowers, that later were used by young people to woo their girlfriends. In fact, during the evening the branches were hung by young boys on the doors of the girls’ houses and they waited to see if the gift was brought in as a symbol of appreciation or left on the windowsill. Boccaccio, in the 'Life of Dante', said that the first meeting between the poet and his beloved Beatrice took place right on May Day 1274! The days of 'Maggio Florentine' continued with the famous maggiolate, parties in which people sang, played and danced! Hence, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino has the same characteristics. The song is assigned to the choir, the sounds to the orchestra and dance complete the picture! After all, what better way to celebrate a very special time of the year than through music? Do not hesitate: enjoy the arrival of spring listening to an opera or admiring the dance moves of dancers of great level, you will be fully satisfied!

Would you like to know some other curiosities about the tradition of Florence and its history: The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is an event that contains the roots of a city which is full of charm.

So, during the holidays in honour of May, the girls used to adorn their heads with wreaths of roses and brooms and dance through the city followed by the musicians. The popular dances of the time were called 'a rigoletto': a circle, and were accompanied by ballads and rhymes as well as, of course, music. Traders interrupted their activities and citizens took a break to fully appreciate the live events during these holidays. As the craftsmen suspended their work and traders stopped their activities, the streets of Florence became crowded with musical processions and the palaces changed their appearances using flags and floral decorations. In addition to the buildings, an altar in front of the Orsanmichele Church was decorated with flowers and laurel together with the creation of 'blooms', a carpet made of leaves and buds in spring.

The shows of the Maggio Musciale Festival in Florence still return this evocative dimension in honour of spring and its 'artistic' blossoming. Every year, on 23rd May a ceremony takes place in memory of the friar preacher Savonarola. After Mass in the Chapel of the Priors of the Palazzo Vecchio, the citizens, together with the Dominican friars, meet in the Piazza della Signoria to spread rose petals on the tombstone that bears witness to the place of the hanging and the martyrdom of Brother Savonarola in 1498 and his two Brothers Domenico Buonvicini and Silvestro Maruffi. If you pass here, look down and look for this particular monument...

ORCHESTRA The Florence Maggio Musicale started during the year of its foundation the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra (1933). Before this time the Stabile Orchestra of Florence had been in existence since in 1928, conducted by Vittorio Gui, who thereafter remained as a guide in the early years of the festival until the arrival of Bartoletti. The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra has had, from the outset, an appreciation not only by the Italian public and has presented varied repertoires of opera often overcoming very difficult historical moments. In the sixties, the arrival of the director Riccardo Muti and then, from the eighties, of the maestro Zubin Mehta have dramatically increased the prestige and fame of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra. In addition to the tours and participation in major symphonic seasons, the Orchestra has been working for the production of albums, recordings for radio and television since the fifties; among the various awards, it also earned a Grammy Award in 1990.

CHORUS More information on the protagonists of the festival with the Chorus! It also began with the founding of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, led by Master Andrea Morosini, and it soon became the spearhead of the opera and symphonic choruses in Italy. Over the years, the experience and the commitment of this group meant that it reached success and fame also in the field of chamber and contemporary music. Certainly, the presence of masters such as Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti and Zubin Mehta has helped to create a virtuous circle for this singing group in Florence, so much that it often acts as a separate group that participates in other international music festivals.

The chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, today, is directed by composer Prato Lorenzo Fratini.

DANCE An equally important part of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival is dedicated to dance. This was indeed crucial, since the foundation, in its role of promotion and dissemination of dance in Italy. The company 'Maggio Danza' was formed later in 1967 thanks to Aurel Miholy Milloss a well-known Hungarian dancer and choreographer, who brought to international attention the 'Portrait of Don Quixote' show, with music by Goffredo Petrassi, which enjoyed great success at the Teatro Communale in Florence. Milloss believed that dance should find a common area with other art forms, so during his guidance in Florence he endeavoured to create interactive shows and in collaboration with the most famous painters of the 20th century. In particular, he used the artistic advice of painters Renato Guttuso and Toti Scialoja for the sets and costumes for his shows. The masterpiece of Milloss among the works of the Florence Maggio Musicale has been undoubtedly 'The Miraculous Mandarin' by Bartok which had its debut in Florence in 1964.

In the 70s and 80s, a time when the corps de ballet was named Maggio Danza and it officially became a dance company, the director was Evgheny Polyakov, who gave a boost to the positioning of innovative repertoire. Along with timeless classics such as the Nutcracker (1983) the festival was enriched thanks to the introduction of contemporary choreography, under the leadership of Merce Cunningham and Stephen Petronio. During the 80s the Theatre of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino hosted the most famous dancers in the world, such as Rudolf Nureyev and the beautiful Italian étoiles namely Carla Fracci and Alessandra Ferri.

In the 90s Maggio Danza was under the direction of Karole Armitage, American choreographer and famous for her choices often judged transgressive by an audience rooted in the traditions of classical forms ... When trying to innovate, it is not always easy to please everyone! The compositions of Apollo and Daphne by James Ivory and Pinocchio, whose costume designer was the exceptional Jean-Paul Gautier, became memorable. After subsequent directions with short or three-year assignments, the company has worked under its last director Francesco Ventriglia on contemporary authors such as Preljocaj and Foniadakis and has created ever more original shows appreciated by the international audience. From the program of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, look for the show that most suits your taste!

The Maggio Musicale today has become a real institution (Opera Florence) and includes a training Academy for young people. The school offers courses not only in the arts of music, but also includes technical training for important professions such as technicians, tool makers, tailors and makeup artists!

During the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival, we also suggest you pay attention to those events that take place ‘around the festival': concerts in museums, screenings (Maggio Cinema), conferences and talks with the public and listening guides: you will discover many curiosities on the works and music!

The opera season of the Maggio Musicale offers opportunities of prestige for the city of Florence and for those who are visiting it, it is another opportunity to enjoy its tradition and talents. Do not forget, in fact, that opera was born in this city: at the end of the 16th century a group of poets and musicians called 'Camerata Bardi' or Florentine Camerata, led by patron Giovanni Bardi, gave birth to a new form of entertainment. Taking the 'recitar singing' of the Middle Ages, the Camerata theorized a new concept of entertainment in which the actors, instead of acting, expressed themselves through the singing of texts with classical inspirations.

Are you ready to be moved by the notes of Mozart and Beethoven, or do you prefer to follow the story of Violetta in Paris in the 19th century (the Traviata by Verdi)?

Do not hesitate and choose which Maggio Musical Fiorentino tickets you prefer!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff