Franco Zeffirelli, director of theater, opera, and cinema, passes away at 96 years old.

Franco Zeffirelli, the elegant and sometimes controversial director of theater, opera, and cinema, died. He was 96 years old.

Zeffirelli, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 1968 version of "Romeo and Juliet," died at his home in Rome at noon on Saturday, his son Luciano told The Associated Press. "He had suffered for a while, but he left peacefully," Luciano said.

While Zeffirelli liked to make films with literary backgrounds such as "Romeo and Juliet", "Hamlet", "Taming of the Shrew" and "Jane Eyre", his legacy as an opera and theater director is probably more consistent and lasting.

He rose in rank as an assistant to his mentor Luchino Visconti, and his stage designs and, finally, the direction they took him to the great houses of the world: La Scala, the Met, etc. He directed Callas in "La Traviata" and big productions. from "La Boheme", "Carmen" and "Othello" (which he later filmed). He also directed legendary theatrical productions of "Hamlet" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

The film production of Zeffirelli was less consistent, from the lively and sensual "Romeo and Juliet" and the playful "Taming of the Shrew" to the "Love without end" a little deformed and the unthinkable "Young Toscanini". In his homeland, in particular, He was always mentioned as a pale shadow of Visconti, both in attitude and style.

But politically it was the opposite of Visconti. Zeffirelli was also known for his sometimes intemperate sociopolitical declamations, particularly for his anti-abortion and pro-Church positions.

After meeting Visconti while painting landscapes for his production of "Tobacco Road", he became an actor and stage director at Morelli-Stoppa Co. in Visconti. With Visconti as his employer, Zeffirelli soon stopped acting to concentrate on working behind the scenes as an assistant. director.

Through Visconti, he met all the leading dramatists and film directors of the time.

Zeffirelli attended Visconti in the classic film "La terra trema" of 1948 and also in his "Bellissima" of 1951 and in the "Senso" of 1954. However, in the end, he saw himself as just another Visconti protege, and the stage became the pillar of Zeffirelli for most of the next few years. In 1948 he attended Salvador DalĂ­ in Morelli-Stoppa's production of "As You Like It". Next, he designed Visconti's famous Italian production of "A Streetcar Named Desire", and his equally announced "Troilus and Cressida", presented at the Boboli Gardens in Florence. In 1951 he designed the Morelli-Stoppa "Tres hermanas", also with great success.

La Scala of Milan called him in 1952 to design "L'Italiana in Algeri" by Rossini, and the following year he designed and directed "La Cenerentola". His first big success at La Scala was "L'Elisir d'Amore" by Donizetti in 1954.

He continued working in many of the best opera houses in Italy during the next years and traveled abroad to present the production of "Falstaff" at the Holland Festival of 1956. In 1958 he organized the historical production of "La Traviata" of the Opera Dallas Civic with Maria Callas in The story was told in flashback.

In 1959 he debuted at the Royal Opera House in England with new productions of "Lucia di Lammermoor" (diva launch Joan Sutherland), "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "I Pagliacci".

A year later he won his first theatrical success with a vivacious and youthful production of "Romeo and Juliet", which he also designed at the Old Vic in London. "Vic has not done anything better for a decade," wrote critic Kenneth Tynan in the New York Herald Tribune.

In Dallas, he continued creating one rich production after another, including Sutherland in "Alcina", as well as "Don Giovanni" and "Daughter of the regiment". His production of "Othello" with John Gielgud at the head was nicknamed overproduced, but there were few complaints about his operation "Falstaff" at Covent Garden.

Zeffirelli made his Broadway debut with a failed production of "The Lady of the Camellias" starring Susan Strasberg in 1963, but his "Aida" at La Scala with Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi was praised and ridiculed for his production similar to Cecil B DeMille. His "Who fears Virginia Woolf" on the Italian stage was acclaimed unanimously, and his Old Vic "Hamlet" (in Italian starring Giorgio Albertazzi) was also an unconditional triumph. His "Filumena" of 1977 with Joan Plowright was also well received.

Zeffirelli's debut at the Metropolitan Opera with "Falstaff" in 1964 was highly praised and opened the new Met at Lincoln Center in 1966 with "Antony and Cleopatra" by Samuel Barber. He continued to decorate the Met and other opera stages of the world until the end of the 90s with operatic productions visually sumptuous (sometimes excessively) but vibrant, stating that his goal was always to eliminate the boredom of the artistic form.