Famed for his 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet starring a teenage Olivia Hussey—decades before Baz Luhrmann's equally younger-skewing movie—and hailed and criticized for his lavish opera productions, director Franco Zeffirelli died June 15 at 96. His death was confirmed by by a spokesman for the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation.
First exposed to the opera at the age of eight, Zeffirelli caught his big break when the director Luchino Visconti offered the younger man the chance to work with him on an Italian-language production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Embarking on a personal relationship with Visconti, Zeffirelli went on to contribute set designs for many of his productions before making the segue into directing himself.
In addition to Romeo and Juliet—a box office smash—Zeffirelli also directed a film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as a film of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson and the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.
On the opera stage, he worked with everyone from a young Joan Sutherland to Maria Callas. For New York City's Metropolitan Opera, he directed La Bohème, Tosca, Turandot, and Don Giovanni. His 1981 staging of La Bohème, with multiple tiered sets and throngs of singers and supernumeraries remains in rep as the Met's most produced opera. His Turandot is also part of the current repertory; both Puccini operas are part of the house's upcoming 2019–2020 season.
Zeffirelli, born in Florence February 12, 1923, is survived by two adopted sons.