Opera, ballet, symphonic concerts, theatre, film: if culture's your thing, you’ll find something stimulating in Florence.
Florence’s cultural claim to fame goes beyond the wealth of world class artworks to be found within her ancient walls. You wouldn’t think it judging by today’s rather staid classical music scene, but in the 15th century, the city stood on the cutting edge of musical culture when a group of intellectuals known as the Camerata started experimenting with the setting of words to music, an exercise that was to lead to the ‘invention’ of opera. In 1600, Pieri and Caccini’s ‘Euridice’ was performed in the Boboli gardens, an event widely recognised to have been the first operatic performance ever.
Teatro del Maggio
Florence is home to one of Italy’s leading opera houses, the 2,000-seater Teatro del Maggio. At present, it is housed in a bland building with iffy acoustics near the river in west Florence, but a brand new theatre is being built on the other side of Porta al Prato as I write this; the move to the new premises is expected to happen in late 2011... but don’t hold your breath. The most important season of the theatre’s year is the Maggio Musicale festival which runs between late April and late June/early July when the programme includes a mix of symphonic repertoire, opera, ballet and some chamber music featuring a line-up of internationally-known names. The main opera and ballet season takes place in autumn while orchestral concerts dominate the programme in the winter and early spring.
Teatro del Maggio: Corso Italia 16; 055 213535 (box office); www.maggiofiorentino.com.
Teatro della Pergola
The glorious, 17th century Teatro della Pergola, with its splendid red and gold livery, is used principally as a prose theatre, but also hosts a fine season of chamber music concerts promoted by the Amici della Musica (www.amicimusica.fi.it). Featuring top-notch chamber groups and recitalists, concerts run from September until early May and are usually held on weekends.
Teatro della Pergola: Via della Pergola 18-32; 055 2264316; www.pergola.firenze.it.
This large theatre is home to the Orchestra della Toscana, an excellent chamber orchestra known for its performances of unusual 19th- and 20th-century repertoire. During the orchestral season (December-May), the orchestra performs several times a month at the Verdi; see www.orcafi.it for their programme. The theatre is also used for a wide variety of other performances from light opera and musicals to dance, jazz and the odd rock gig.
Teatro Verdi: Via Ghibellina 99; 055 212320; www.teatroverdifirenze.it.
Other smaller venues that regularly host classical music concerts include the Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori (Via di Camaldoli 7r; 055 221646; www.accademiacristofori.it). And for performance on period keyboard instruments, the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte is used by a variety of different concert organisations (ask in the tourist office for details). The Lutheran church (Lungarno Torrigiani 11) is where organ recitals and chamber music concerts are held throughout the year, usually free. Again, ask in the tourist office.
In summer, Piazza della Signoria is the setting for two annual free bashes (a dance gala and a symphonic concert) for the closing of the Maggio festival (www.maggiofiorentino.com) and the Boboli gardens hosts a season of opera and ballet performances (www.festivalopera.it).
Most of the mainstream films shown in cinemas in Italy are dubbed into Italian, but the Odeon in central Florence shows regular films in their original language. This splendid Art Nouveau theatre fills up with ex-pats on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays for the programme of current releases, which are sometimes shown with Italian subtitles.
Odeon: Piazza Strozzi 2; 055 295051; www.cinehall.it.
Visit my overview on Florence nightlife or read my other guide: Nightlife in Florence: how to have a good night out.
Where to stay
For suggestions on where to stay in Florence, see my Florence Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Florence page.