Franco Zeffirelli

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Franco Zeffirelli
Zeffirelli (cropped).jpg
Zefiirelli in 2008
Member of the Senate
In office
21 April 1994 29 May 2001
Constituency Catania
Personal details
Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli

(1923-02-12) 12 February 1923 (age 96)
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Political party Forza Italia
Residence Rome
Alma mater University of Florence
Profession Film director
Opera director
Military service
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1942–1945
Unit 24th Guards Brigade
Battles/wars World War II

Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli, KBE Grande Ufficiale OMRI (Italian:  [ˈfraŋko dzeffiˈrɛlli] ; born 12 February 1923) best known as Franco Zeffirelli is an Italian director and producer of operas, films and television. He is also a former senator (1994–2001) for the Italian centre-right Forza Italia party.

Order of Merit of the Italian Republic Italian order of knighthood

The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic was founded as the senior order of knighthood by the second President of the Italian Republic, Luigi Einaudi in 1951. The highest ranking honour of the Republic, it is awarded for "merit acquired by the nation" in the fields of literature, the arts, economy, public service, and social, philanthropic and humanitarian activities and for long and conspicuous service in civilian and military careers. The post-nominal letters for the order are OMRI. The order effectively replaced national orders such as the Civil Order of Savoy (1831), the Order of the Crown of Italy (1868), the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (1572) and the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (1362).

Italian opera

Italian opera is both the art of opera in Italy and opera in the Italian language. Opera was born in Italy around the year 1600 and Italian opera has continued to play a dominant role in the history of the form until the present day. Many famous operas in Italian were written by foreign composers, including Handel, Gluck and Mozart. Works by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are amongst the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world.

Forza Italia former Italian political party

Forza Italia was a centre-right political party in Italy with liberal-conservative, Christian-democratic, liberal, social-democratic and populist tendencies. Its leader was Silvio Berlusconi, four times Prime Minister of Italy.


Some of his operatic designs and productions have become worldwide classics. [1] [2] [3] [4]

He is also known for several of the movies he has directed, especially the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet , for which he received an Academy Award nomination. His 1967 version of The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton remains the best-known film adaptation of that play as well. His miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) won acclaim and is still shown on Christmas and Easter in many countries.

<i>Romeo and Juliet</i> (1968 film) 1968 film by Franco Zeffirelli

Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 British-Italian romantic drama film based on the play of the same name, written 1591–1595 by famed English playwright / author William Shakespeare (1564–1616).

Academy Awards American awards given annually for excellence in cinematic achievements

The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry, given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), to recognize excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar". The award was originally sculpted by George Stanley from a design sketch by Cedric Gibbons. AMPAS first presented it in 1929 at a private dinner hosted by Douglas Fairbanks in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

<i>The Taming of the Shrew</i> (1967 film) 1967 film by Franco Zeffirelli

The Taming of the Shrew is a 1967 American-Italian romantic comedy film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare about a courtship between two strong-willed people. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Shakespeare's Kate and Petruchio.

A Grande Ufficiale OMRI of the Italian Republic since 1977, Zeffirelli also received an honorary knighthood from the British government in 2004 when he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. [5] He was awarded the Premio Colosseo in 2009 by the city of Rome.

The Premio Colosseo is a prize awarded to a person who has enhanced the image of the city of Rome. It was inaugurated in 2009, the 2000th anniversary of the birth of emperor Vespasian, builder of the Colosseum. The award is a silver model of the Colosseum.

Early life

Zeffirelli was born Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli 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 opera Idomeneo , of which she was quite fond. However, it was misspelled in the register and became Zeffirelli. [6] When he was six years old, his mother died and he subsequently grew up under the auspices of the English expatriate community and was particularly involved with the so-called Scorpioni, who inspired his semi-autobiographical film Tea with Mussolini (1999).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

<i>Idomeneo</i> opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante is an Italian language opera seria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was adapted by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. Mozart and Varesco were commissioned in 1780 by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria for a court carnival. He probably chose the subject, though it might have been Mozart. The work premiered on 29 January 1781 at the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Germany.

The Scorpioni

The Scorpioni was a small group of elderly English ladies who lived in Florence in the 1930s and 1940s. They were given the name "Scorpioni" because they were known for their arch humour. One of them was an English governess called Mary O'Neill. When World War II began, the ladies were put under arrest in San Gimignano.

Italian researchers have found that Zeffirelli is one of a handful of living people traceably consanguineous with Leonardo da Vinci. Zeffirelli is a descendent of one of da Vinci's siblings. [7]

Leonardo da Vinci Italian Renaissance polymath

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly Leonardo da Vinci or simply Leonardo, was an Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture, and he is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter, and tank, he epitomised the Renaissance humanist ideal.

Zeffirelli 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. [8] After World War II broke out, he fought as a partisan, before he met up with 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 Laurence Olivier's 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 assistant director for the film La Terra trema which was released in 1948. Visconti's methods had a deep impact upon Zeffirelli's later work. [9] 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.



Zeffirelli with Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967 Director-Franco-Zeffirelli-and-Olivia-Hussey-in-the-movie-Romeo-and-Juliet-391759001112.jpg
Zeffirelli with Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967

Zeffirelli's first film as director was a version of The Taming of the Shrew (1967), originally intended for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni but finally including the Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton instead. Taylor and Burton helped fund production and took a percentage of the profits rather than their normal salaries.

While editing The Taming of the Shrew, Zeffirelli's native Florence was devastated by floods. A month later, Zeffirelli released a short documentary, Florence: Days of Destruction , to raise funds for the disaster appeal. [10]

Zeffirelli's major breakthrough came the year after when he presented two teenagers as Romeo and Juliet (1968). The movie is still immensely popular and was for many years the standard adaptation of the play shown to students. This movie also made Zeffirelli a household name - no other subsequent work by him had the immediate impact of Romeo and Juliet.

The film earned $14.5 million in domestic rentals at the North American box office during 1969. [11] It was re-released in 1973 and earned $1.7 million in rentals. [12]

Film critic Roger Ebert (1942–2013), for the Chicago Sun-Times has written: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made". [13]

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 titled Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), then his extended mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (1977) with an all-star cast. The latter was a major success in the ratings and has been frequently shown on television in the years since.

He moved on to contemporary themes with a remake of the boxing picture The Champ (1979) and the critically panned Endless Love (1981). In the 1980s, he made a series of successful films adapting opera to the screen, with such stars as Plácido Domingo, Teresa Stratas, Juan Pons and Katia Ricciarelli. He returned to Shakespeare with Hamlet (1990), casting the then–action hero Mel Gibson in the lead role. His 1996 adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre was a critical success.

Zeffirelli frequently cast unknown actors in major roles; however, his male 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. The female leads in those films (Olivia Hussey and Brooke Shields) have attained far greater success in the industry.


Zeffirelli has been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy and elsewhere in Europe as well as the United States. 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, Texas, in 1958. 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. Zeffirelli also collaborated often with Dame Joan Sutherland, designing and directing her performances of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959. He has over the years created several productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, including La bohème , Tosca , Turandot and Don Giovanni .


In November 2004, he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom. [14]

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.$


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. [15]

Personal life

In 1996, Zeffirelli came out as gay, but has since preferred to be discreet about his personal life. [16] Zeffirelli said that he considers himself "homosexual" rather than gay, as he feels the term "gay" is less elegant. [17] Zeffirelli has adopted two adult sons, men he has worked with for years and who now live with him and manage his affairs. [17]

Allegations of sexual advances

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. [18]

In 2018, actor Johnathon Schaech alleged that Zeffirelli sexually assaulted him during the filming of Sparrow . [19] Zeffirelli's son Pippo issued a statement denying the allegation. [20]

Selected filmography


See also

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