The splendid Palazzo Corsi Salviatti in Via Tornabuoni conceals a series of curious historical facts that are still relatively unknown to the general public. These include the fact of having been built around a piazza, the apartments of the “Flash Pope” and the room where the very first opera in the world was held, making this one of the most original buildings ever to be erected in Florentine Renaissance style.
Today the structure, which sits at the intersection of Via degli Strozzi and Via de’ Tornabuoni in the heart of Florence, is part of the Palazzo Tornabuoni, a Four Seasons–managed private residence club. The space where Dafne was performed more than 400 years ago is now one of 37 residences — each dramatic in its own right — available for whole or fractional ownership at Tornabuoni.
The Brunelleschi suite sits on the third floor of the palazzo, above the library, and overlooks Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s Duomo.
Other residences include the Strozzi suite and the Galileo, with its own private rooftop terrace with a 360-degree view of Florence.
The private residence club has 10 club suites (available for share ownership) and 27 private ownership suites (at prices from about $2.5 million to $6.8 million – 2009 dollars).
Turning the palazzo into a residential property required extensive renovation that took five years,led by Florence-based architect and interior designer Michele Bonan. The renovation involved maintaining the architectural integrity of the structure, updating it with modern systems, and restoring its sculptures, frescoes, and other objets d’art. The Department of Fine Arts in Florence supervised the restoration of the palazzo’s artworks, which took 14 artisans three years to complete.
Upon entering, the huntress Diana welcomes you. Resplendent salons and suites follow, each a timeless repository of successive generations of frescoes and sculptures.
The palazzo dates to about 1450, when the architect Michelozzo constructed it as a private residence for the Tornabuoni family. Since then the building has changed hands several times. Alessandro Ottaviano de’ Medici, who would become Pope Leo XI, acquired the property in 1574. Then, in the 1590s, Corsi took ownership of the property, which remained in his family for more than three centuries. In 1901, the building became a bank, and it served in that capacity until the Florence-based Fingen Group purchased it in 2004.
The palazzo rises up over the foundations of three pre-existing medieval buildings that once belonged to the Consorteria of the Tornabuoni and Tornaquinci families; and in one of these Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo il Magnifico’s mother, was born and spent her childhood.
The three houses faced onto an internal piazza connected by two lanes to the adjacent main streets. Commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni, famous architect Michelozzo Michelozzi took inspiration from this piazza to build the present day palazzo all around it, creating the splendid courtyard that can still be seen today.
When Alessandro de Medici, Archbishop of Florence, became the owner of this palazzo, he transferred the city archbishopric here temporarily seeing that the old headquarters in Piazza San Giovanni had been devastated by fire and required extensive restructuring and renovation. The Archbishop surrounded himself with renowned artists like Agostino Ciampelli and Lodovico Cardi, known as “Il Cigoli” for these building and redecorating operations. Ciampelli was famous for having frescoed various halls to the theme of the Old Testament, whereas Il Cigoli, in his role as architect, had previously restructured a loggia located at the corner of the building facing onto Via de Ferravecchi (old irons) and Via de Belli Sporti (beautiful architectural projections), now via Strozzi and Via Tornabuoni, known as “Canto a Tornaquinci”. Alessandro de Medici’s rapid ecclesiastic ascent soon took him far from Florence. On becoming cardinal he moved to Rome taking with him his faithful Ciampelli, and at the age of eighty, he was nominated Pope with the name of Leone XI. However this was an extremely short-lived pontificate that lasted a mere 27 days (1-27 April 1605), so short in fact that he was called the “Flash Pope” by the people of that era.
In the meantime the palazzo had passed into the hands of the Corsi, an ancient Florentine family which boasted a history of priors and gonfaloniers of the republic. Jacopo Corsi was certainly their most outstanding member. A refined benefactor and great music lover, he was in the habit of holding gatherings in the palazzo with a selection of the greatest poets and musicians of that time, like Claudio Monteverdi, Torquato Tasso, Ottavio Rinuccini, Jacopo Peri and Giovanbattista Marino, who called themselves the Academy of Music.
Jacopo Peri was born in Rome but relocated to Florence to study music. In the 1590s, he met Jacopo Corsi, the leading patron of music in Florence, and they decided to recreate a form of Greek tragedy, following in the footsteps of the Florentine Camerata, which had produced the first experiments in monody.
Based on an account by Jacopo Peri it is commonly thought that the first performance of Dafne took place in 1594. However Peri’s account is misleading. He might have meant that Jacopo Corsi and Ottavio Rinuccini requested him to compose Dafne in 1594 or that he composed Dafne in 1594 at the request of Corsi and Rinuccini. He definitely did not state that the first performance was held in 1594.
The only definite date of performance of Dafne is given by Marco da Gagliano. He says that Jacopo Corsi had Peri’s Dafne performed in the presence of Giovani Medici and some of the principal gentlemen of Florence during the carnival in 1597. He does not specifically state that the performance took place at Palazzo Corsi nor that it was the first performance but it is reasonable to interpret his remarks to that effect.
Ottavio Rinuccini, who composed the libretto to Dafne, did not a date of performance. He merely said that Dafne was performed before a few enthusiastic listeners and later in an improved form of the text at Palazzo Corsi before a large audience of Florentine noblemen, the Grand Duchess and the cardinals Del Monte and Montalto. That date could have been around 18 January 1599 when the household accounts of Palazzo Corsi show expenses incurred for a performance of Dafne. Sala delle Muse at Palazzo Corsi seems like the obvious choice of venue.
On 21 January 1599 Dafne was performed again, this time at Palazzo Pitti, before the same cardinals and a large audience of Florentine nobility.
From the household accounts of Palazzo Corsi, we know that Dafne was again performed at the palace in late August 1600 and it was perhaps for this performance that the libretto was printed.
Dafne was revived on 26 October 1604 at Palazzo Pitti, in Sala Bianca, in honour of the Duke of Parma. A libretto of this performance exists.
The libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini survives complete, but Peri’s score has been lost. The surviving music fragments are by Jacopo Corsi, who was the first to compose parts of Rinuccini’s text.
Peri’s later composition, Euridice, written in 1600 based on a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, is the earliest surviving opera and was initially performed as part of the wedding festivities of Maria de’ Medici and Henry IV of France, thereby catapulting opera into the mainstream of court entertainment. Some of the music used in the first performance of L’Euridice was composed by Peri’s rival at court, Giulio Caccini.
Vienna opted for 1598 as the year of first performance of Dafne and in 1998 it celebrated opera’s 400th anniversary with the event Universe of Opera held over three days and showcasing 53 internationally known singers offering solo arias and duets.