Filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, who Defied the Odds and Rose to Fame, Dies at 96

Zeffirelli's extravagant opera, film and theatre productions left global audiences in awe.

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who delighted audiences around the world with his romantic vision and often extravagant productions, most famously captured in his cinematic “Romeo and Juliet,” has died in Rome at 96.

Variety reports: “In a move that was at once audacious and indelible, Zeffirelli cast Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy with actors who were shockingly young and, at the same time, ridiculously gorgeous. Leonard Whiting, at 17, and Olivia Hussey, at 16, were closer to the stated age of Shakespeare’s protagonists than most of the actors who had played them. But, of course, it wasn’t just fealty to the text that inspired Zeffirelli’s gambit. It was the tribal erotic youth dance of the ’60s, which “Romeo and Juliet” became a part of. The movie was a hip rhapsody of desire, and it seemed to baptize the entire culture in the fatal beauty of youth.”

While Zeffirelli was most popularly known for his films, his name was also inextricably linked to the theater and opera. Showing great flexibility, he produced classics for the world’s most famous opera houses, from Milan’s venerable La Scala to the Metropolitan in New York, and plays for London and Italian stages, according to the Associated Press.

Zeffirelli’s son Luciano said his father died at home on June 15.

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