Franco Zeffirelli (born 1923) is best know for his extravagantly staged operas and films that bring the classics to the masses. His interests also span into the political arena. He was elected to the Italian senate in 1994 and 1996 representing Catania, Sicily.
Franco Zeffirelli has proven himself as a talented director of operas, plays and feature films. He has found the most success in the opera house. Though critics haven't always been in favor of his flamboyant staging, his audiences have been bedazzled by it. In fact, his elaborate set designs have often been thought to upstage the music. Zeffirelli has also brought classics such as Romeo and Juliet (1968), Hamlet (1990) and Jane Eyre (1996) to the silver screen so that the average movie-goer can understand them. While some claim that he oversimplifies the classics, Zeffirelli feels that he popularizes them instead. Even in the world of politics, Zeffirelli has looked out for the common people. William Murray in Los Angeles Magazine, noted that Zeffirelli has "secured jobs, money and other help" for his constituents in Catania, "one of the poorest, most Mafia-ridden cities in Sicily."
A Boy with No Name
Zeffirelli was born on February 12, 1923 in the outskirts of Florence, Italy. He was the result of an affair between Alaide Garosi, a fashion designer, and Ottorino Corsi, a wool and silk dealer. Since both were married, Alaide was unable to use her surname or Corsi's for her child. She came up with "Zeffiretti" which are the "little breezes" mentioned in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte of which she was quite fond. However, it was misspelled in the register and became Zeffirelli. Alaide placed her newborn with a peasant family for two years before bringing him to live with her after the death of her husband. Unfortunately, she succumbed to tuberculosis and a six-year-old Zeffirelli was sent to live with his father's cousin, Lide, whom he called "Aunt Lide."
As a child, Zeffirelli's earliest experiences of theater were the traveling actors who visited the peasant village where he spent his summers. He also enjoyed building toy theaters and scenery for his puppets. The first opera he saw was Die Walkre which he didn't understand. The music and scenery, though, captivated the young boy. Another early influence was the Catholic Club at his school. The club performed religious and historical plays at various churches. He also went to see movies quite often and knew who all the stars were and the gossip about them.
The War Years
Mussolini marched on Rome the year before Zeffirelli was born and Fascism was all around him. During World War II, Zeffirelli began studying architecture at the University of Florence. By the time most of his friends had been conscripted, he chose to join the partisans in the hills of Italy. After escaping the Italian Fascists and reaching the Allied lines, he ended up as a guide and interpreter for the First Battalion of the Scots Guards. It was with the Scots that his interest in theater was renewed. He helped organize a theatric performance with soldiers in drag. By the time he returned to Florence, Zeffirelli was a different person. He went to live with his father and after seeing Laurence Olivier's Henry V he decided to pursue a career in theater.
Count Luchino Visconti
The biggest break of Zeffirelli's career was his acquaintance with Count Luchino Visconti. According to Andrea Lee in The New Yorker, meeting Visconti "was the opening of the crucial collaboration of Zeffirelli's life, an artistic and sentimental relationship that would be equaled in intensity only by his passionate friendship with Maria Callas. It also marked an immense step up in the world." He met Visconti while working as a scene-painter and from there his career took off. He spent nearly 9 years with Visconti and worked for his Morelli-Stoppa theatrical company. Lee further noted that "[i]n Visconti, who divided his talents between cinema, opera, and theatre, Zeffirelli had an example of the restless eclecticism that in time became his own trademark." He also adopted Visconti's penchant for detailed research and hands-on demonstrations of how he wanted a scene acted out.
On Stage and Screen
Zeffirelli's career took off in the 1950s as a scene designer for Italian productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Troilus and Cressida. From 1958 on, Zeffirelli has demonstrated the flexibility of going from opera to theater to film and back again all over the world. In one decade, he brought out: Lucia di Lammermoor (1959) with Joan Sutherland; Romeo and Juliet (1960) at the Old Vic; Othello (1961) with John Gielgud at Stratford; Tosca (1964) at Covent Garden; Norma (1964) at the Paris Opera; Taming of the Shrew (1967) with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; and a film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968).
"Opera a la Zeffirelli is the greatest show on earth," claims Murray. His sets tend to be very large in scale and he often has literally crowds of performers on stage at once. He's even been known to use numerous live animals. Bernard Holland in the New York Times had this to say about Zeffirelli's productions at the Metropolitan Opera, "The Met-with its huge stage, its magnificent stage equipment and crew, and its pocket of wealthy patrons hungry to gild the status quo-has become for him an irresistible playground and a marriage made in heaven." With regard to a performance of Puccini's Turandot, Holland commented that "[s]omewhere in the house that night an opera, and a rich and stageworthy one at that, was going on. It really didn't matter, though. All the glitter and grandiosity descending over it made certain that music wouldn't get in the way of an evening's entertainment."
Zeffirelli's name is linked most often with the operas, La Traviata, Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci. His 1958 staging of La Traviata in Dallas, Texas with Maria Callas as Violetta marked Zeffirelli as an up-and-coming international director. Often when Zeffirelli has been asked to direct an opera that he has done before, he will make changes to the time period or the setting. With I Pagliacci, he changed the time from 1870 to 1938 in one production and the setting from Calabria to the outskirts of a city like Naples in another. His fondness for opera can be seen in his carefully dictated quote to Murray that, "opera is a river that carries you forward."
Zeffirelli's films have not enjoyed as much critical success as his operas, yet they still appeal to the audiences. His 1977 five-part television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth shows the kind of ambitious undertaking Zeffirelli can achieve. This modern classic is broadcast in Italy and around the world every Easter. His film about St. Francis, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, was disliked by the critics but has seen cult-like popularity in the Philippines and Brazil due to its religious content.
In an interview with John Tibbetts in Literature Film Quarterly, Zeffirelli shed some light on perhaps another reason for the lack of critical acclaim received by his films when he said, "I think culture-especially opera and Shakespeare-must be available to as many people as possible. It irritates me that some people want art to be as 'difficult' as possible, an elitest [sic] kind of thing. I want to give these things back to the people." This can clearly be seen in his treatment of the films he has based on English classic literature such as Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.
Zeffirelli's practice of researching the subject to the smallest detail has helped bring these films to the general audience. In Romeo and Juliet, he used two very young performers in the lead roles who more closely matched the age of Shakespeare's characters. When criticized about the ages of Glenn Close and Mel Gibson as being unrealistic for a mother and son in Hamlet, Zeffirelli responded that it was common at that time for girls to marry at 13 and start having children. He has also done a film version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. The book had been a favorite of his since he was ten years old and Mary O'Neal introduced him to it while tutoring him in English. Ian Blair reported in The Standard-Times that Zeffirelli said his biggest challenge with the film was "not to impose the eye of an Italian on it."
Zeffirelli has been an outspoken rightist for some 40 years. He ran for parliament in Florence in 1983 and lost. He had run as a favor for the Christian Democratic Party which feared the Communist Party might make some gains. Zeffirelli also had an ulterior motive for running. In his autobiography, Zeffirelli: The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli, he admits, "I genuinely thought I could use the post to realize a long-standing dream: to use my cultural connections and make Florence the European capital for the performing arts … [and] access to political power was essential for anyone trying to bring this about."
In 1994, Zeffirelli ran for a seat in the Italian senate representing the city of Catania in Sicily. With 63 percent of the vote, he was elected as a candidate for the rightist party, Forza Italia. He ran for re-election and won again in 1996. With regard to his activities as a senator, he told Lee that "he sensibly assigns others to cover areas he is unfamiliar with, and tries to take charge of things with which he has direct experience-culture, historic preservation, education, and the environment, including, in particular, animal rights."
Zeffirelli's political views tend to be on the conservative side. Even though he has not been known to attend mass regularly, he is a staunch supporter of the Vatican. Perhaps the only area in which the Pope and Zeffirelli don't agree is artistic preference. In a Vatican list of 45 films deemed to have worthy religious content, none of Zeffirelli's films are mentioned. Belinda Luscombe reported in Time that Zeffirelli felt his films "have brought about many more conversions then all those cited."
Even in his seventies, Zeffirelli is always on the lookout for a new endeavor, be it film or opera. "The more you work, the more you accumulate energy," he told Marion Hart in Entertainment Weekly. He has written a script for a film version of Madame Butterfly and is looking to cast Cher in the leading role of the film Tea with Mussolini which is based on a chapter from his autobiography. With regard to his future, Blair quoted Zeffirelli as saying, "I feel like an airport with all these projects circling around waiting to land. Some get lost in space, others land safely."
Zeffirelli, Franco, Zeffirelli: The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.
Entertainment Weekly, April, 26, 1996.
Hartford Courant, February 1, 1998.
Literature Film Quarterly, April-June, 1994.
Los Angeles Magazine, September 1996.
New Perspectives Quarterly, Summer 1994.
New York Times, October 5, 1997.
New Yorker, April 22, 1996.
Time, March 25, 1996.
Victoria, June 1996.
Blair, Ian, "Zeffirelli's 'Eyre' love affair," The Standard Times, (April 7, 1996) http://www.s-t.com (March 21, 1998).
"Franco Zeffirelli," http://www.unitel.classicalmusic.com/ (March 15, 1998).
Zeffirelli-Cosi, Franco (fräng'kō zāf-fērĕl'lē-kô'sē), 1923-, Italian opera, stage, and film director and designer, b. Florence. Zeffirelli had his first successes as assistant to the director Luchino Visconti in the films Troilus and Cressida and The Three Sisters. His first opera production was La Cenerentola for Milan's La Scala, after which he became known chiefly for his opulent opera productions. He has mounted productions of Falstaff (1964, revival 2002) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), among others, for the Metropolitan Opera Company. Zeffirelli's films include The Taming of the Shrew (1966), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973), The Champ (1979), Endless Love (1981), La Traviata (1983), Hamlet (1990), Jane Eyre (1996), and Tea with Mussolini (1999).
See his autobiography (1986).
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Born: Feb 12, 1923 in Florence, Italy
Occupation: Director, Writer
Major Genres: Music, Theater
Career Highlights: La Traviata, Romeo and Juliet, Otello
First Major Screen Credit: La Terra Trema (1948)
Italian director Franco Zeffirelli started out as an actor in the stage productions of Luchino Visconti, then worked as an assistant on several Visconti-directed films. After World War II, Zeffirelli launched a career designing, costuming, and directing operas, a field of entertainment to which he'd return periodically throughout his life and which led to his first directorial credit, the Swiss-produced filmization La Boheme (1965). Zeffirelli's reputation in the 1960s rested on his boisterous, non-traditional movie versions of Shakespeare. He directed Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a lusty adaptation of Taming of the Shrew (1967), then became an icon for the Youth Movement by casting 17-year-old Leonard Whiting and 15-year-old Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet (1968). Zeffirelli's eye for visual richness served him well in the opulent Brother Sun/Sister Moon (1973), a romanticized account of Francis of Assisi. Some of Zeffirelli's later American films were unworthy of his talents, though he made the most of the emotional possibilities of The Champ (1979) and actually helped Brooke Shields pass as an actress in the otherwise lachrymose Endless Love (1981). The director found himself in the center of a controversy upon finishing the expensive Euro-American TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth; certain religious activists, upset that the ads promised a "human" look at Jesus, forced several sponsors to withdraw their advertising from the telecast. (The "scandal" proved groundless, since Zeffirelli's Jesus was one of the most reverently accurate ever seen in films.) Zeffirelli has been represented by his televised stagings of operas, many of which have shown up on American public television. And in 1990, Franco Zeffirelli returned to Shakespeare for an all-star film version of Hamlet, wherein the "surprise" was not so much Mel Gibson's superb rendition of the title role as the fact that this was the first movie Hamlet that looked like it was actually taking place in 12th century Denmark.
Filmography: Franco Zeffirelli
Maria Callas: Life and Art
Maria Callas: La Divina - A Portrait
Callas: A Documentary Plus Bonus
Tea With Mussolini
Cavalleria Rusticana (Teatro alla Scala)
Tosca (The Metropolitan Opera)
Turandot (Arena Di Verona)
La Bohème (Metropolitan Opera)
La Bohème (Teatro alla Scala)
Jesus of Nazareth
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
Member of the Italian Senate
21 April 1994 – 29 May 2001
Born 12 February 1923 (1923-02-12) (age 87)
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Political party Forza Italia
Alma mater University of Florence
Profession Film Director
Religion Roman Catholic
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1942–1945
Unit 24th Guards Brigade
Battles/wars World War II
Franco Zeffirelli, KBE (Hon), (born 12 February 1923) is an Italian film director and producer of films and television and opera director and designer. He has also been a politician (The People of Freedom).
He is known for his film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. His television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (1977) also won acclaim and is still shown on Easter weekend in many countries. Zeffirelli has been a member of the Italian Senate since 1994, representing the Forza Italia party (which later became The People of Freedom).
4 Personal life
5 Selected filmography
7 External links
Zeffirelli was born in Florence as Gianfranco Corsi, the illegitimate son of a mercer, Ottorino Corsi, and his mistress, Adelaide Garosi, who was a dressmaker. When he was six years old his mother died and he subsequently grew up under the auspices of the British expatriate community and was particularly involved with the so-called Scorpioni, who inspired his semi-autobiographical 1999 film Tea With Mussolini.
He graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze in 1941 and, following his father's advice, entered the University of Florence to study art and architecture. After World War II broke out, he fought as a partisan, before he met up with the British soldiers of the 1st Scots Guards and became their interpreter. After the war, he re-entered the University of Florence to continue his studies, but when he saw Henry V in 1945, he directed his attention toward theatre instead.
While working for a scenic painter in Florence, he was introduced to and hired by Luchino Visconti, who made him the assistant director for the film La Terra trema, which was released in 1948. Zeffirelli's later work was deeply impacted by Visconti's methods. He also worked with directors such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. In the 1960s he made his name designing and directing his own plays in London and New York, and soon transferred his ideas to cinema. He was also a model.
Zeffirelli's first film as director was a version of The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. His major breakthrough came the year after when he presented two teenagers as Romeo and Juliet, the perfect venue for 1968. The movie is still immensely popular (witness countless groups on the internet discussing the actors and the film in general), and was for many years the standard adaptation of the play shown to students. This movie also made Zeffirelli a household name - although no other subsequent work in his name has come close to the impact made by Romeo and Juliet.
After two successful film adaptations of Shakespeare, Zeffirelli went on to religious themes, first with a film about the life of St. Francis of Assisi entitled Brother Sun, Sister Moon to an extended television mini-series about Jesus with an all-star cast entitled Jesus of Nazareth. The latter was a major success and is frequently shown on TV.
He moved on to contemporary themes with a remake of the boxing picture The Champ (1979) and the critically panned Endless Love. In the 1980s he made a series of successful films adapting opera to the screen, with such stars as Placido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, Juan Pons, and Katia Ricciarelli. He returned to Shakespeare with Hamlet presented the Danish Prince in a quite unexpected way, casting Mel Gibson, who was then seen as an action-hero rather than a serious actor, in the lead role. His 1996 adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was a critical success.
Zeffirelli frequently cast unknown actors in major roles; however his leads have rarely gone on to stardom or even a sustained acting career. Leonard Whiting (Romeo in Romeo and Juliet), Graham Faulkner (St. Francis in Brother Sun, Sister Moon) and Martin Hewitt (in Endless Love) all left the film business after failing to secure similar high-profile roles. The female leads in those films (Olivia Hussey and Brooke Shields) have attained far greater success in the industry.
Zeffirelli has also been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy, Europe, and the U.S. He began his career in the theatre as assistant to Luchino Visconti. Then he tried his hand at scenography. His first work as a director was buffo operas by Rossini. He became a friend of Maria Callas, and they worked together on a "La Traviata" in Dallas in 59. Of particular note is his 1964 Royal Opera House production of Tosca with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. In the same year, he created Callas' last "Norma" at the Paris Opera. He has over the years created several productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, including La bohème, Tosca, and Turandot.
Zeffirelli in 2008In November 2004 he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom.
In 1996, for services to the arts, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Kent at a graduation ceremony held in Canterbury Cathedral. In 1999 he received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Zeffirelli is openly gay. He has received criticism from religious groups for what they call the blasphemous representation of biblical figures in his films and also criticism from members of the gay community for publicly backing the Roman Catholic Church with regard to homosexual issues. Director Bruce Robinson claimed to have been the target of unwanted sexual advances by Zeffirelli during the filming of Romeo and Juliet in which Robinson played Benvolio. Robinson says that he based the lecherous character of Uncle Monty in the film Withnail and I on Zeffirelli.
In 2007, disappointed with the manner in which Pope Benedict XVI had been presenting himself to the media, Zeffirelli openly offered his services to the Pontiff as an image consultant. In connection with this matter, he was quoted as saying "I am a Christian down to the depths of my spirit."
La Bohème (1965; production designer only)
The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
Romeo and Juliet (1968) Academy Award nominee, director
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
The Champ (1979)
Endless Love (1981)
Cavalleria Rusticana (1982) with Plácido Domingo and Elena Obraztsova
Pagliacci (1982) with Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas
La Bohème (1982) (live Metropolitan Opera – stage director)
La Traviata (1983) – Academy Award nominee, BAFTA winner, art direction; with Teresa Stratas and Plácido Domingo
Tosca (1985), (live Metropolitan Opera – stage director)
Otello (1986) – British Academy of Film and Television Arts winner, foreign language film; with Plácido Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli
Don Giovanni (live Metropolitan Opera – stage director)
Don Carlo with Luciano Pavarotti and Daniela Dessi (live La Scala – stage director)
Storia di una capinera (also known as Sparrow; 1993) with Sheherazade Ventura
Jane Eyre (1996)
Tea With Mussolini (1999)
Callas Forever (2002)
1.^ BBC report on honorary KBE for Zeffirelli
2.^ Donadio, Rachel (2009-08-18). "Maestro Still Runs the Show, Grandly". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/arts/music/19zeffirelli.html?_r=1&hp. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
3.^ "Franco Zeffirelli Biography". Yahoo! Movies. http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/contributor/1800025046/bio. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
4.^ "UK honour for director Zeffirelli", BBC News. Accessed 27 May 2008
5.^ a b Smith, Patricia Julian (2005-01-09). "Zeffirelli, Franco". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. http://www.glbtq.com/arts/zeffirelli_f.html. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
6.^ Murphy, Peter. "Interview with Bruce Robinson". http://www.laurahird.com/newreview/brucerobinson.html. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
7.^ Aliosi, Silvia (2007-12-15). "Film-maker Zeffirelli vows to help Pope with image". http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL1538232220071215?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&rpc=22&sp=true. Retrieved 2007-12-15.
8.^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Franco Zeffirelli Filmography". Allmovie. http://www.allmovie.com/artist/franco-zeffirelli-117884/filmography. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
External links Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Franco Zeffirelli
1.REDIRECT Template:IMDb name
Franco Zeffirelli at the Internet Broadway Database
Italian Senate profile
 Interview: Maria Callas and Callas Forever
Interview with Zeffirelli from 1999 about Tea With Mussolini
[hide]v • d • eFilms directed by Franco Zeffirelli
1960s The Taming of the Shrew (1967) · Romeo and Juliet (1968)
1970s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) · Jesus of Nazareth (1977) · The Champ (1979)
1980s Endless Love (1981) · Pagliacci (1982) · Cavalleria rusticana (1982) · La Traviata (1983) · Otello (1986) · Young Toscanini (1988)
1990s Hamlet (1990) · Sparrow (1993) · Jane Eyre (1996) · Tea with Mussolini (1999)
2000s Callas Forever (2002)
NAME Zeffirelli, Franco
DATE OF BIRTH 1923-02-12
PLACE OF BIRTH Florence, Tuscany, Italy
DATE OF DEATH
PLACE OF DEATH
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