Obituary: Franco Zeffirelli Dies At 96

By Francisco Salazar

Franco Zeffirelli has died at the age of 96 on June 15, 2019 after suffering from a long illness in his home in Rome.

The great Italian director was born Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli in the outskirts of Florence, Italy to Alaide Garosi and Ottorino Corsi. Zeffirelli graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze in 1941 and went to the University of Florence to study art and architecture. However, during World War II, he stopped his studies and became an interpreter for the British soldiers of the 1st Scots Guards.

After the war, he went back to his studies and redirected his focus toward the theater. He would become a scenic painter in Florence and would meet the great Luchino Visconti, who hired him as assistant director for the film “La Terra trema.” That would bring him to work with Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, among others.

From his experience with these directors, Zeffirelli would go on to make his film debut with “The Taming of the Shrew” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who helped fund the film. He would then film “Florence: Days of Destruction” and then direct “Romeo and Juliet,” which would be his breakout and garner him an Oscar nomination.

His other important film projects included “St. Francis of Assisi titled Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” “Hamlet,” “Jane Eyre,” and the mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Zeffirelli was also a fixture in the opera world as he was one of the most important operatic directors of his time. His first work as a director was in buffo operas by Rossini and he would later direct Maria Callas in “La Traviata” in Dallas, “Tosca” in London, and “Norma” in Paris.

Zeffirelli also worked with Dame Joan Sutherland, designing and directing her performances of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” in 1959 at the Royal Opera. Over the years he would work with the Metropolitan Opera, Opera di Roma, Teatro alla Scala, Teatro la Fenice, Royal Opera House, and Arena di Verona, among many other important houses.

He would go on to direct such works as “La Bohème,” which remains his most popular interpretation, “Turandot,” “Tosca,” “Il Trovatore,” “Pagliacci” and “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Don Giovanni,” “Madama Butterfly,” and “Otello,” among others.

He would also direct a series of Opera films including “La Traviata” with Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas, which was nominated for two Oscars as well as “Otello” with Domingo and Katia Ricciarelli.

He remains a fixture in the opera world as his productions of “Turandot,” and “La Bohème” still remain massively popular at the Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, and Arena di Verona.

His two adopted children survive him.