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Farewell to the great film, theatre and opera director Franco Zeffirelli who has died aged 96

By: stagedoorscribbler - June 17, 2019

Franco Zeffirelli who has died aged 96

The great director Franco Zeffirelli who, among many other achievements, transformed the career of our good friend Robert Powell when he cast him in the title role of his 1977 TV epic Jesus of Nazareth has died aged 96.

We shall not see his like again. His lavish sets and grand directorial style produced a series of stage and screen masterpieces that drew on his personal love of Shakespeare, opera and the power of religion.

Works like Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Tosca and Norma, La Boheme , La Traviata, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and the aforementioned Jesus of Nazareth proved Zeffirelli to be a complete on-off.

Born in Florence as the  result of an affair his mother had with a salesman, he was denied the family name and instead registered as Zeffiretti (little breezes) after the title of an aria in a Mozart opera.  A mis-transcription however meant he was registered as Zeffirelli.

Intriguingly his influences both came and went in unusual directions in film, theatre and opera. For instance he cast Mel Gibson as Hamlet after seeing him in Lethal Weapon 1.

And, as a gay man of a certain age, he often enjoyed trying to attract younger men including at one point Bruce Robinson, the writer and director of Withnail and I.

Robinson was a decidedly reluctant to find himself on the receiving end  Zeffirelli’s attentions and eventually used the great director as a model for Withnail’s famed Uncle Monty.