glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
home
arts
literature
social sciences
special features
discussion
about glbtq
   search

 
   Encyclopedia
   Discussion
 
 

   member name
  
   password
  
 
   
   Forgot Your Password?  
   
Not a Member Yet?  
   
JOIN TODAY. IT'S FREE!

 
  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy
  Copyright

 

 

 

 

 
arts

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Zeffirelli, Franco (b. 1923)  

For half a century, Franco Zeffirelli has been in the spotlight for his visually extravagant opera, stage, and film productions. While his self-proclaimed "crusade against boredom" in the dramatic arts and his emphasis on spectacle have brought him considerable acclaim, they have also been the target of significant critical derision.

The controversial Italian director has also been lambasted by religious groups for his supposedly blasphemous representation of biblical figures, yet he has also provoked the ire of many gay men and lesbians for siding publicly with the Roman Catholic Church on homosexual issues.

Sponsor Message.

Zeffirelli was born February 12, 1923 in Florence, the son of Ottorino Corsi, a wealthy businessman, and his mistress Adelaide Garosi, a fashion designer. Through his father, Zeffirelli was related to the family that centuries before had produced Leonardo da Vinci.

He was originally Gianfranco Corsi, but his mother subsequently followed the Florentine tradition of naming a child born out of wedlock with a created name beginning with the letter "Z." After his mother's death, he was placed in the care of an English governess, from whom he learned the English language and its literature.

Zeffirelli graduated from art school in 1941, and, following his father's plan, became an architecture student at the University of Florence. While at the university, he became active in directing student theatrical productions, including stagings of operas under the tutelage of his aunt Ines Alfani Tellini, a retired soprano.

In 1943, he left college to join the Partisans and fight against the Nazi occupation of Italy. Subsequently he became an interpreter for the British Army after the Allied invasion.

As a result of meeting British troops who shared his dramatic interests, Zeffirelli abandoned his plans for a career in architecture and, after the war, became a theatrical set and costume designer.

During the late 1940s, he worked as an assistant to director Luchino Visconti, whose attention to realistic detail and action profoundly influenced the young apprentice's own work.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Zeffirelli firmly established his reputation as a drama and opera director. In the former capacity, he presented highly naturalistic stagings of Shakespeare at London's Old Vic.

Simultaneously, he was responsible for noted productions at Milan's La Scala, London's Covent Garden, and New York's Metropolitan Opera starring the leading divas of the period, particularly Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Leontyne Price.

His lavish visual appeal created greater mainstream interest in legitimate theater and opera, but Zeffirelli's characteristic style--which he likened to that of the Hollywood epics of Cecil B. De Mille, "but in good taste"--did not meet with universal acclaim.

Many found his productions overdone to the extent that the sets and stage action drew attention away from the actual performance. Indeed, this was the case with the 1966 world premiere of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which was commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. The technology operating the prodigious stage machinery malfunctioned, the spectacle was almost unanimously panned, and Barber's career was effectively ended.

His detractors notwithstanding, Zeffirelli continued to expand his audience during the mid-1960s with his debut as a film director. His first feature film, The Taming of the Shrew (1967), featured the most discussed theatrical couple of the day, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. As a cinematic rendering of a traditional work of English literature, it set the tone for many of his subsequent screen productions.

His best-known film, Romeo and Juliet (1968), soon followed. It was controversial for his casting of unknown and inexperienced (if highly attractive) teenaged actors in the title roles. He would again present such adolescent sensuality and sexual awakening in Endless Love (1981), which tells the story of an obsessive teen romance set against the backdrop of parental prohibition.

Zeffirelli's later films have received widely mixed reviews and are generally regarded as uneven in quality. These include Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973), Jesus of Nazareth (television miniseries, 1977), film versions of Verdi's operas La Traviata (1982) and Otello (1986), Hamlet (with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, 1990), Jane Eyre (1996), the autobiographical Tea with Mussolini (1999), and Callas Forever (2001).

Although Zeffirelli is openly gay and has frankly discussed his sexuality in his autobiography, he is nonetheless somewhat paradoxical in this regard. Some critics have noted a "homosexual gaze" in his films, particularly in their lingering and erotically tinged close-up shots of the semi-nude male body. In Tea with Mussolini, moreover, he cast Lily Tomlin as an unambiguously lesbian character.

At the same time, however, his advocacy of Catholic dogma in opposition to gay activism has not gone unnoticed, particularly his backing of Vatican efforts to thwart the inception of a Gay Pride parade in Rome.

Yet this seeming contradiction is, perhaps, characteristic of Zeffirelli's career and work, for which he has long been regarded with extreme degrees of reverence and revilement, in almost equal measure.

Patricia Juliana Smith

     

    
 interact  
   
Contact Us
 
Join the Discussion
 
 find 
   
Related Entries
 
More Entries by this contributor
 
A Bibliography on this Topic

 
Citation Information
 
More Entries about The Arts
 
   
spacer
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

 
Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots


Gay Liberation Front


The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980


Leather Culture


Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.


Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence


Androgyny
Androgyny


Russia


Computers, the Internet, and New Media


Radicalesbians

 
 


   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  Divas

The diva has traditionally played a significant role in both gay and lesbian culture as an object of cult worship with whom those who suffer the heartaches of forbidden love and ostracism from an unaccepting society find solace and identification.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

social sciences >> Overview:  Italy

Although it is a founding member of the European Union, Italy lags beyond other member states in the protections and respect it accords to glbtq citizens, especially gay and lesbian couples.

arts >> Overview:  Opera

Opera, an eclectic synthesis of voice, drama, music, costume, visual arts and spectacle, has played an integral role in queer culture since its development in seventeenth century Venice.

arts >> Overview:  Set and Costume Design

Set and costume design for stage and film are fields that have attracted a large number of talented gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: David and Jonathan

It is not surprising, since the Bible insists that David be looked at and admired, that he should emerge in Western art as the incarnation of male physical attractiveness, especially as rendered by Michelangelo.

arts >> Barber, Samuel

Despite the spectacular failure of his opera Antony and Cleopatra, American composer Samuel Barber made an enduring contribution to the cultural life of the United States and the world.

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

arts >> Tomlin, Lily

Less well-known for being herself than for the many memorable personages she "becomes" during her performances, comedienne Lily Tomlin has long been a supporter of gay and lesbian rights, but only recently came out herself.

arts >> Visconti, Luchino

The arc of the film career of Luchino Visconti, the most contradictory and varied of the major Italian filmmakers, mirrors his increasing openness about his homosexuality.


    Bibliography
   

Zeffirelli, Franco. Zeffirelli: The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Zeffirelli, Franco  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 9, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/zeffirelli_f.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.

www.glbtq.com is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.