Franco Zeffirelli
Franco was born in Florence in 1923. His mother died young, so he was raised by an aunt and a British lady, whose love for Shakespeare and the opera influenced young Franco his entire life. In his teenage years he fought with the Italian partisans against the fascists, and after the war studied at the Beaux-Arts Academy in Florence. Attracted to the theater very early on, he joined a theater group as an actor, and it wasn’t long before he was designing sets and costumes for various productions. The profound change in Franco’s career came when he met Luchino Visconti, the great film, opera and theater director, and became his assistant. He worked at Visconti’s side for more than ten years. Franco Zeffirelli is one of the best known Italian directors in the world, his activities ranging from cinema, to theater, to opera. He has staged countless opera productions in the major theaters of the world, working with such artists as Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, and many other great personalities. Many of his productions are unforgettable – Aida and La Bohème at La Scala in Milan; Falstaff, Tosca, Turandot, Don Giovanni and Traviata at The Met in New York; Carmen, Il Trovatore, Aida and Madame Butterfly at the Arena in Verona; and Aida in Tokyo, which inaugurated the Japanese capital’s new National Theater. Two extraordinary experiments at the tiny gem of the theater at Busseto (the birthplace of Verdi), his scaled-down productions of Aida and La Traviata, continue to enjoy widespread international popularity. Following his successes in 2004, 2005 and 2006, during which he also designed and directed a new Aida for the opening of the La Scala seaon, in 2007 he presented Pagliacci in Moscow. In the movies, his name is linked with international hits like The Taming of the Shrew (1966) with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Romeo and Juliet (1968), Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1971), The Champ (1980), Hamlet (1991), Tea with Mussolini (1995) and his latest, Callas Forever (2002). Also to be remembered are his movie versions of the operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci (1981), Traviata (1982) and Otello (1986), which have brought young audiences closer to Opera. For television, Franco wrote and directed Jesus of Nazareth (1976/77), enjoyed by over a billion and a half people throughout the world! Franco has also directed important events for the Catholic Church, such as the great concert celebrating Beethoven’s bicentennial requested by Pope Paul VI (1970), and the Opening of the Holy Year in 1974 and 1983. Various honorific titles, prizes and awards have been conferred upon Franco Zeffirelli during his artistic career: Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1978), Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa (University of Kent, England, 1986), Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa (University of Tel Aviv, 1993), Honorary Citizen of the City of New York, Grand Marshal of the Columbus Day Celebrations in New York, and finally, never before bestowed upon an Italian, Knight of the British Empire (2003). In 2006, Franco’s new autobiography was published, entitled simply Zeffirelli.
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