Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Recommended Posts

In today's NYTimes:

A Showman and His Showcase: Zeffirelli at the Met


"Lavish in scale and unashamedly theatrical." This, in a nutshell, is the style associated with the star designer and director Franco Zeffirelli as he himself defined it in his autobiography 16 years ago. He stages opera the way De Mille filmed "The Ten Commandments," and he drenches movies in the pathos of opera.

Some artists are content to please the few. Mr. Zeffirelli's mission is to reach the many. Everyone loves him, the saying goes, except the critics. And he has said the same. "I've made my career without the support of the critics, thank God," he told Opera News 20 years ago, after the premiere of his epic production of Puccini's "Bohème" at the Metropolitan Opera. "I rely only on my profession, my honesty and my audience."

I've always been partial to the humble ones wink.gif

One of the reasons I put up the Other Arts section is to help us keep up with what's going on in opera, theater and classical music. Any of our opera goers have an opinion on Zefferelli as an opera stager?

[ March 17, 2002, 02:52 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

Link to comment

Zeffirelli seems to have run out of good ideas, so he uses the ones that have worked in the past and just makes things bigger and busier.

He is a disciple of Luchino Visconti, a genius of the lyric stage who, along with Maria Callas and Carlo Maria Guilini, set the standard for operatic excellence at La Scala during the middle of the last century.

Zeff hasn't been so lucky in finding collaborators to help him fulfill his ideas, so we get bloated productions like the "Carmen" of a few years ago (still in the Met rep). There are scenes with so many supers, actors, peasants, cigarette workers, horses, dogs, etc. that it is difficult to locate the singers.

In 1985 his production of "Traviata" was ravishing. His much more recent "Traviata" for the Met, also still in the rep, has little merit.

His productions are popular and expensive, but any production of "Carmen", "Traviata", "Boheme" or other top ten operas will sell lots of tickets at the Met. Their expense insures they will be used for years to come.

He did "Otello" (Verdi) in 1986, available on video tape. Well worth seeing, even if you are tired of Placebo as the tenor de jour.

He could use a change--Las Vegas would be perfect for him at this stage of his career.

Link to comment

I'd avoided reading the Zeffirelli article because I'm somewhat irrational on the subject. I can't stand the man's bloated, overpopulated opera productions and consider him one of the most overrated "talents" of our time.

His grandiose vision of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra caused the Met's turntable to break down, contributed hugely to the failure of the opera, and crippled Met stagings for months after opening night.

The first act of Boheme, amid the rooftops of Paris turns a charming, funny, and romantic scene into a distant spectacle viewed through the wrong end of a telescope.

I suppose Turandot is Zeffirelli at his Zenith -- a three-ring circus where you don't have to pay any attention at all to the singers.

His Otello was okay, but that was due in no small measure to Placido Domingo, one of the supreme singers in opera history, who was able to pull off the almost impossible feat of standing out in a Zeffirelli production.

I was not a fan of Cecil B. De Mille either.

Link to comment


Originally posted by Ed Waffle:

... we get bloated productions like the "Carmen" of a few years ago (still in the Met rep). There are scenes with so many supers, actors, peasants, cigarette workers, horses, dogs, etc. that it is difficult to locate the singers.

I have to agree with Ed on this one! My major complaint with the Zeff productions I've seen at the Met(about 5 or 6)is that there is SO much going on on stage that is often virtually impossible to figure out who's singing -- and thus any dramatic effect generated by the music itself is undermined. As far as I'm concerned, this is absolutely fatal, since creating drama through music is the whole point of opera in the first place.

In my opinion, few singers (or indeed performers of any kind) have the kind of monumental personal presence required to avoid being swallowed up entirely by the most recent Zeff productions for the Met. And in this I think he does the singers and the Met no service at all: the house is huge and sometimes the work in question is best served by de-emphasizing the scale of the place in order to create greater intimacy and dramatic focus.

Link to comment

Well, attempting to find something nice to say, he was doing some interesting things early on -- Kenneth Tynan said something to the effect in his review of Zeffirelli's production of "Romeo and Juliet" that every director in London was in the audience grinding his teeth and wondering why he hadn't thought of this years ago. And he was very helpful to Callas in those last difficult years on stage. But sometimes he just doesn't know when to quit, or even take a coffee break. It's too bad.

Link to comment

Two years ago in Florence, I was fortunate enough to see an exhibit of Zeferelli's costumes. I haven't seen much of his work for opera but these costumes ranging from things he'd designed for Callas to items from his films (Romeo and Juliet, Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Tea with Mussolini) were dazzling. The exhibit was laid out so that in many cases you could get close enough to see the workmanship. He may be overrated as a director but I think he is underrated as a costume designer.

Link to comment

I was reminded of this thread recently while reading an amusing account of Zeffirelli's wildly overproduced "Othello" of 1961, in Jonathan Croall's very fine biography of John Gielgud, "John Gielgud: A Theatrical Life." Apparently Zeffirelli insisted on importing enormous sets that swallowed up the performers, and with the dim lighting and elaborate Venetian costuming he also imposed, you could hardly see Gielgud in his dark body makeup against the scenery, and when the actors leaned against the imposing pillars, they wobbled. The unwieldy sets required long pauses for changes, complete with noisy thumps and creaks as the audience waited.

The first night was one of the legendary disasters of the English theatre; Gielgud's beard kept coming off, the scenery fell down, and a play noted for its brevity staggered on for almost five hours. Ian Bannen, the Iago, had a particularly bad night. Unnerved by misadventures with the scenery and unable to see, he announced, "Cassio's slain – I mean, he's almost slain." (I've read another story similar to this last, which has Bannen, trying to keep the play moving, killing off Rodrigo two scenes early. "Rodrigo's dead, my lord," he informed Gielgud, who didn't take this well. "Dead, sayst thou?" snapped the harried star, causing Bannen to backtrack hastily: "Well, not dead. Just not very well, my lord."

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...