Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Grand Duchess of Tuscany by appointment of her brother Napoleon, acquired Villa Marlia – now in the municipality of Capannori, Lucca – in the early 19th century. She deeply renovated the baroque building and surrounding property, extending the front park, adding a floor, and providing the entire estate with a neoclassic aesthetic.
Quickly, Elisa’s palazzo became a meeting place for the international aristocracy and a temple of theater and music performances, welcoming great artists such as Jean Racine – who debuted his “Phèdre” in the villa’s “teatro di verzura”, a 24-meter-deep space surrounded by yews, stone steps for sitting, stages, wings and statues of Commedia dell’arte characters. None other than the princess of Lucca and Piombino played the main role in the five-act tragedy, which reinterpreted the story that had been told by Euripides, Seneca and Ovid.
The iconic violinist Niccolò Paganini, “virtuose de chambre” and conductor of the court orchestra, held a number of concerts at the villa’s open theater. In his autobiography, he even claimed – all modesty aside – that he had to “often dismiss Elisa, who sometimes fainted when she heard me play, so as to not to deprive others of their enjoyment.”