It was February 24, 1607 when, in a hall of Palazzo Ducale, tenor Francesco Rasi sang the first notes of Orfeo. The work of Claudio Monteverdi that marked the transition from the Renaissance music to the Baroque music is considered the first true masterpiece in the history of opera. The love for music, both sacred and secular, has always been very strong in Mantua . The Gonzaga were patrons of some of the greatest musicians of the time such as Palestrina who composed the famous nine Messe Mantovane for the Basilica of Santa Barbara, which was provided with the prestigious organ of Antegnati by Duke Guglielmo. Even young Mozart performed in Mantua in 1770 at the Teatro Bibiena, described by his father Leopold as the “most beautiful theatre in the world”.
The link between Gonzaga and music continued in subsequent years as Giuseppe Verdi composed in 1851 Il Rigoletto, whose libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave. The opera is set in the court of Mantua. In September 2010, Italy’s main television channel RAI live-broadcasted worldwide Verdi’s drama in Mantua, with Placido Domingo as Rigoletto and the RAI Symphony Orchestra conducted by maestro Zubin Mehta.
In terms of literature, in 70 BC Mantua gave birth to the greatest Latin poet of all time, Virgil . Pillar of Western civilization, Virgil’s Mantuan origins are recalled in the beginning of the famous epitaph Mantua Me Genuit. The medieval statue of Virgil at his Desk on Palazzo dei Podestà, the Renaissance portraits of the poet revived as model of classicism as well as the square and the forest named after him in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, give all evidence of the love that the city has shown to the great Mantua poet over the course of history. Mantua was also the birth city of poet Teofilo Folengo, who began his artistic production imitating Virgil’s verses. Folengo then became the most prominent exponent of macaronic sixteenth century poetry.