When we think of Florence, it’s inevitable to think about the Medici family, Michelangelo’s David towering above you in the Uffizi Gallery or the striking red-tiled Duomo... or maybe the first things coming to mind are the glorious weather, the delicious gelato and Tom Hanks searching for clues in Palazzo Vecchio? Either way, Florence is an incredibly vibrant city today as it was in the past: from the bustle of flavours in the Central Market to the breathtaking view from the top of Giotto’s bell tower, it’s easy to understand why over ten million people flock here every year.

The entire historic centre of Florence is on the UNESCO World Heritage's list
The entire historic centre of Florence is on the UNESCO World Heritage's list

This summer, from the 28th to the 31st August, the private gardens of Palazzo Corsini al Prato, a mansion belonging to one of the oldest aristocratic families in Florence, will open to the public for the New Generation Festival, a glamorous weekend of opera, music and theatre aiming to give a platform to new, talented musicians from all over the world.

A 500-seat amphitheatre is built around a colonnaded loggia, which creates a natural proscenium arch in the gardens that, coincidentally, were already home to a music festival in the 17th century. The current owners, Prince Filippo and Princess Giorgiana Corsini – counting both a saint and a pope in their family tree – have long been patrons of the arts, and the lively and welcoming atmosphere at the festival is a reflection of their infectiously joyous attitude and hands-on approach.

The 2018 New Generation Festival Orchestra conducted by Maximilian Fane © Guy Bell
The 2018 New Generation Festival Orchestra conducted by Maximilian Fane
© Guy Bell
Now in its third year, the festival was created by a trio of British under-35s to be a platform for young artists: Maximilian Fane, Roger Granville and Frankie Parham loved Italy, which they consider the birthplace of opera, and chose Florence as it is an hotspot of extraordinary beauty and culture. “We work to create a supportive environment in which young, gifted artists can blossom,” they told us. “We collaborate with a number of highly regarded international masterclasses, academies, young artist programmes and international competitions where we constantly seek out top performers who have the promise of becoming the stars of the next generation. We are proud to present unknown singers because we know we will be surprising our audiences and giving them the chance to appreciate real talent regardless of fame.”

This year's opening event will be Mozart’s 1786 opera buffa Le nozze di Figaro – a fitting piece for this space, since its fourth act takes place in a garden. Its large cast is perfect to showcase many young singers, plus, according to Granville, it is “the most sublime and perfect work of art ever created”. Victoria Stevens from the Nationaltheater Mannheim will in charge of staging, while on the conducting podium is Jonathan Santagada, a regular collaborator of Sir Antonio Pappano’s at the Royal Opera House, fresh from conducting Tosca at Opera North. The cast features an international group of rising talents, with the lead role sung by Polish Juilliard-graduate bass-baritone Daniel Mirosław, Russian soprano Anna El-Khashem as Susanna, and Turkish baritone Faik Mansuroğlu and Croatian soprano Nela Šarić as the Count and Countess d’Almaviva.

The gardens of Palazzo Corsini al Prato © Guy Bell
The gardens of Palazzo Corsini al Prato
© Guy Bell
But the musical time-travel that this festival promises does not stop at Renaissance Italy. While headlining with opera and classical, the festival aims to celebrate all great music, regardless of genre. From a night with Beethoven and Schumann, to Brooklyn and Harlem in the roaring 20s, the programme aims to champion young talent in a variety of roles, both on and off the stage. “We received over 800 applications from instrumentalists living in 78 different countries for a place in our 2018 orchestra alone,” the organisers told us. “It is no secret that many young, incredibly talented and highly trained performers, particularly opera singers whose voices are expected to mature before they can be offered the more substantial roles, struggle to find work as the industry becomes increasingly saturated. Our aim is provide a platform to young talents, no matter what genre of music they specialise in.”

And even if this is a glamorous, black-tie event – in past editions even some Hollywood stars were spotted in the crowd – there are cheap tickets available for spectators under 35, to ensure that the new generation celebrated by the festival is not only the one on stage but also the one making up the audience. “Audiences of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to attend,” the co-founders told us, “but it is the next generation that we are particularly eager to attract. Opera as a medium is of such a scale and depth that it can be infused with newfound relevance, vigour and the capacity to supersede differences in age and personal circumstance, facilitating an international and inter-generational dialogue.”

Click here to see the full programme of the festival.


This article was sponsored by the New Generation Festival.