In the Tuscan capital, the center of musical life is the "Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino", which takes its name from "Calendimaggio", an ancient Florentine festival during which the city, decked out with flowers, honoured the spring with dances, music and theater performances; it was celebrated on the first day of May with festivities that extended throughout the month.
The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is the oldest and most prestigious European festival along with Bayreuth and Salzburg, and takes place in the "Teatro comunale". This structure, originally an open-air theatre designed in 1862 by Telemaco Bonaiuti called Politeama Fiorentino, was rebuilt several times following the bombing of 1944 and the flood of 1966.
The festival was founded in 1937 and since then it hosts the best musicians around the world: singers such as the "divina" Callas and Luciano Pavarotti, composers as Pietro Mascagni, Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartòk, Igor Stravinskij, Luigi Dallapiccola, Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio and conductors as Vittorio Gui, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Zubin Mehta, Herbert von Karajan and Riccardo Muti. Famous filmmakers, painters and sculptors (such as Max Reinhardt, Gustav Gründgens, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, Luca Ronconi, Bob Wilson, Giorgio De Chirico, Oskar Kokoschka) have been called as set and costume designers.
This decision to call an expert staff to perfect the visual and aesthetic aspect was developed in Florence before anywhere else and has proved decisive for modern dramatic opera. In summer, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino's performances are set outdoors in the wonderful Boboli Gardens or in the charming Signoria Square.