JUST AS ROCK FANATICS clash over the musical merits of the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones, opera buffs can spend hours debating differences between Mozart, Monteverdi and Mendelssohn. But even fans of classical music who argue the fine points of every aria agree that the earliest opera was Dafne, which made its debut in Florence, Italy, more than 400 years ago. Its like those battling Beatles and Stones stalwarts conceding that Chuck Berry invented rock n roll some matters are simply beyond repute.
Unfortunately, much of the music and other material relating to Dafne has been lost over the last four centuries, so specific facts such as performance dates and musicians names are few and far between. It is known with certainty that Italian virtuoso singer Jacopo Peri composed the piece, which was based on the Greek myth about a nymph who transformed into a laurel tree to escape the amorous pursuits of the sun god, Apollo.
Now, all these years later, Dafne is getting its due.
The room in which this first opera took place has been painstakingly restored and converted into an elegant apartment as part of an elaborate $250 million project to renovate the Palazzo Tornabuoni, a compound of more than two dozen connected buildings that fills an entire city block in the heart of Florence. The Medici palace was originally constructed in the early part of the Renaissance, sometime during the 15th century. Now, the site houses several luxury retailers such as Bulgari and Cartier, and a residential club with 38 apartments that cater to wealthy travelers who prefer fractional ownership of a historical landmark to stays in a traditional timeshare or a lavish suite at an upscale hotel. (Charter members of the residential club range from American wine aficionados to Hong Kong opera lovers, while visitors have included Beatles producer George Martin, Nobel Prizewinning economist Robert Engle and former U.S. senator Bill Frist.)
The club is filling up fast, and its hardly any wonder: Florence consistently earns high marks on wanderlust lists such as Travel + Leisures Top Cities Awards, where in 2009 it was voted the number one spot in Europe and number six in the entire world. As nearly every visitor will attest, the sheer abundance of the citys art treasures from Michelangelos sculpture of David at the Accademia Gallery to Botticellis The Birth of Venus painting at the Uffizi Gallery is matched by the romantic, time-frozen beauty of the citys stone-paved streets, the gargoyle-guarded Duomo, the medieval bridge Ponte Vecchio and the majestic Pitti Palace. (Ironically, the only thing missing is a grand historic opera house; the citys sole dedicated opera venue, the 2,000-seat Teatro ¬Comunale, is sterile and relatively modern.)