FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI, Italian director and designer, born (d: 2019); An Italian film director, he was also an opera director, designer and producer of opera, theatre, film and television. Internationally, he was known for having directed the 1968 film version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for which he was nominated to receive an Academy Award. His 1977 television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth also won acclaim and is still shown on Easter weekend in many countries. In the post war years, he studied art and architecture at the University of Florence, and worked with directors such as Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti. 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 had also been a major director of opera productions since the 1950s in Italy, Europe and the U.S. Of particular note is his 1964 Royal Opera House production of Tosca with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, and several productions for the Metropolitcan Opera in New York, including La bohème and Turandot. Also of note was his set design for Madama Butterfly in the fall of 1985 for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In November 2004 he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the United Kingdom.
Zeffirelli was out Gay and 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 Gay issues. Director Bruce Robinson claimed to have been the unwanted target of sexual advances by Zeffirelli during the filming of Romeo and Juliet in which Robinson had a minor acting role. 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.” Zeffirelli had been a member of the Italian senate since 1996, representing the Forza Italia party.