Inside the Maggio Musicale

An interview with Francesca Zardini

Patrick McGuire
July 14, 2011

Study and career have brought Francesca Zardini, originally from Turin, to some of Europe's biggest and most dynamic cities. With a degree in classical studies and an M.Phil in ancient Greek literature and archaeology, Zardini has worked in an array of fields, from financial analysis to project management. In London she was managing director of a financial firm and in Milan a journalist covering the performing arts. She recently moved to Florence to become the head of media at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino ( While interning with Zardini at the Maggio, Patrick McGuire from Fairfield University had a chance to talk with her about the illustrious past and promising future of one of Florence's most prestigious theatres.


How important is the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino to Italian culture?


The Orchestra del Maggio Musciale Fiorentino was established in 1928, and five years later, in 1933, it became a festival. The Maggio is important for several reasons. The first is, of course, its renowned musical heritage: the greatest musicians and artists of today come here for the artistic quality that the Maggio has developed since its beginning. The main goal of the orchestra, when it was established, was to create something that could be excellent. It became the first orchestra in Florence, and it was one of the first European festivals devoted to classical music. Thus, people from all over Europe came here to attend the performances because it was the first orchestra of its kind. In the 1940s and the 1950s, so many painters and artists, among them Giorgio de Chirico, Mario Sironi, Gino Severini and Felice Casorati, came to Florence to design stage sets and scenography, lights and costumes, and to participate in the cultural evolution of the time. Today we are trying to build a bridge between the past and the future; to protect and save the past, while also reinterpreting it and holding performances to attract younger generations. We're taking on the challenge of creating different types of performances and entertainment precisely to connect with this and other target audiences.


How does the Maggio manage so many shows in such a short period during the festival?


Many people do not realize that the Maggio has performances all year round. However, things are much more intense during the annual festival in spring. This year, we had more than 70 events in less than two months, which means a lot of work every day, especially for the media department. Also, to get international visibility, we have to conduct press conferences for the foreign press and call in journalists from Germany, the UK and other countries in a very short time span, which isn't always easy.


How is the Maggio Musicale funded?


It is partially funded by the government. All 14 public opera houses in Italy receive grants from the Ministry of Culture. We are fighting hard to bounce back from the financial crisis, which has caused public grants to be cut annually. Thus, another challenge for the performing arts in Italy is to become more effective at fundraising. In the US and UK, fundraising strategies are already very well developed; in Italy, seeking funds from private companies and sponsors hasn't been commonplace until now, yet private funds are necessary to survival nowadays, to supplement government funding.


The Maggio will soonhave a new theatre.


Yes, there will be a big opening ceremony on December 21, 2011, at the new theater. The new theater is 300 yards from here. That night we will inaugurate the main hall; the new auditorium will have three halls, and we will be able to run performances simultaneously. But the staff will stay at the Teatro Comunale until autumn 2012, when the complex is complete.


There is much anticipation in Florence for the Nuovo Teatro del Maggio. Is there the same excitement inside the Maggio? Do you think the new theatre will bring with it an exciting new phase for the opera house?


Indeed! This new theatre will bring new energies, challenges and projects, and, we hope, additional investments. It will be the start of a new era for the opera company.


Does the Maggio attract a global audience or is its appeal more local and national?


One of our challenges is that most of the people attending performances are local and Italian, with only a small percentage of the audience coming from abroad. Florence is full of visitors, but it's a challenge to make them aware that the Maggio is putting on such beautiful performances and to bring them to the theatre. We are working to attract others less familiar with the theater, as well, or those who cannot afford expensive tickets. One of our biggest goals is making the opera house more accessible and attractive to all. For example, we recently changed the pricing policy, increasing the prices for the best seats and lowering price of the less expensive seats. We want everyone to be able to see the new opera house and our performances.


What events is the Maggio offering this summer?


There are several Maggio events in store this July. An upcoming production will celebrate 100 years of Nino Rota's birth. We will be presenting the musical performance, Il cappello di paglia di Firenze by Nino Rota, on July 15, with shows running on July 16, 19 and 20 at the Teatro Comunale (for details see, It has been dubbed 'A musical farse in four acts,' and promises to be very entertaining! Concurrently, there will be an exhibition of straw hats made by members of the Consorzio il Cappello di Firenze in the foyer of the Comunale theatre to celebrate this centuries-old tradition. On July 17 at Bolgheri Melody 2011 (, dancers from MaggioDanza, directed by Francesco Ventriglia, will star in the world premiere of The Genesis Tribute, a ballet inspired by the English band's famous songs.



Maggio Musicale in numbers


By its close on June 23, 2011, the 74th Festival del Maggio Musicale had featured more than 70 events in 51 days, with performances ranging from opera, ballet, concert, shows for children and recitals to musical brunches, open rehearsals, meetings with artists, exhibitions, cinema events and more. Although the Maggio's financial problems continue-the opera house had an 8.3 million euro budget deficit at the close of 2010-this year's festival was more financially successful than last year's. Here are the numbers:


13 venues around Florence hosted festival events


86 guest artists performed in Florence


3 new productions, among them the most popular events of the festival: Giuseppe Verdi's Aida; L'Italia del destino by Luca Mosca and Gianluigi Melega; and Swan Lake: the Čajkovskij Scandal, a ballet in two acts.


22 contemporary performances commissioned for the festival and presented as world premieres: Mosca and Melega's L'Italia del destino; 20 popular songs reworked by 20 contemporary composers on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification; and Pinocchio, a ballet for Maggio Bimbi, choreography by Francesco Ventriglia, music by Emiliano Palmieri


37,171 ticket-holders in 2011 to the events produced exclusively by the theatre, up 20 percent compared to 2010; this includes 7,315 ticket-holders under age 26 (an increase of 3,171 over 2010)


1,632,073 euro in recorded earnings in 2011, representing a documented 60 percent increase since 2010



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