At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Franco Zeffirelli – film director



Shakespeare adaptations made director a household name


Franco Zeffirelli pictured in 2008 was famous for his film adaptations of Shakespeare
Franco Zeffirelli pictured in 2008
Photo: Alexey Yushenkov (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A director for film, opera and television, Franco Zeffirelli, was born Gianfranco Zeffirelli on this day in Florence in 1923.

Zeffirelli is a former senator for the Forza Italia political party and received an honorary knighthood in Britain in 2004.

He first became famous after his 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet was a box office success and received an Academy Award nomination.

He cast two teenagers in the title roles and filmed Shakespeare’s tragedy against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Serravalle in the Veneto region.

His film became the standard adaptation of the play and has been shown to thousands of students over the years.

Zeffirelli studied art and architecture at Florence University before fighting as a partisan during World War Two.

After the war he worked as a scenic painter in Florence until he was hired by Luchino Visconti to be an assistant director on one of his films. He also worked with Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini on films.


The movie poster advertising The Taming of the Shrew in 1967
The movie poster advertising
The Taming of the Shrew in 1967
Zeffirelli’s first film as a solo director was a well-received version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1967.

He began working in the theatre as an assistant to Visconti and became a friend of Maria Callas, eventually directing her in La Traviata in America and in Tosca at the Royal Opera House in London with Tito Gobbi.

Zeffirelli, who received the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1977, is 93 years old today.

Travel tip:

The University of Florence can trace its origins back to the 14th century, but the modern University, where Zeffirelli studied, dates back to 1859, when a number of higher studies institutions were grouped together. When his native Florence was flooded in the 1960s, Zeffirelli made a documentary film, ‘Florence: Days of Destruction’ to raise funds for the disaster appeal.

A typical Serravalle palace
Photo: Paolo Steffan (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Serravalle, where Zeffirelli filmed Romeo and Juliet, was combined with the town of Ceneda nearby and renamed Vittorio in 1866 in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the last decisive battle of the First World War had taken place nearby, Vittorio was renamed Vittorio Veneto. The small town of Serravalle is the more picturesque of the two places that make up Vittorio Veneto and its fine 15th century palazzi and pretty arcaded streets made a wonderful backdrop for Zeffirelli’s film.  

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