Interlude: A Bit of History

This unassuming building in Florence, just south of Santo Croce and a block off the Arno doesn’t even have a plaque to commemorate what transpired here. While it appears to be simply subdivided into apartments today, back at the dawn of the High Renaissance, this was the Palazzo Bardi. Designed in the 15th century by no less a persona than the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi, the Palazzo was the real cradle of the Renaissance. Here, members of the 16th century Florentine intellectual community debated the arts, searching for inspiration from the classical period. One group proposed to recreate true Greek drama in which the chorus part was sung (the music for these dramas did not survive, much to our loss).

The result? Dafne (1597) by Jacopo Peri. By all accounts, it was not a great success. But as recounted here some months back, his second opera, Eurydice, was presented on October 6, 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti. The occasion? The wedding of King Henry IV of France to Maria di Medici.

Peri’s opera was successful only in that it inspired one of the wedding guests, the Duke of Mantua, to ask his court composer to create his own work based on the Peri model. That composer? Claudio Monteverdi. And the opera he created, L’Orfeo, was the spark that lit the grand flame of opera that has burned brightly for 400 years.

And this is where it all began, unmarked and unremarkable. Next time you are in a Florence, pay your respects.

Palazzo Bardi, Via do Benci 5

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