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Thousands gather to pay homage to Italian director Zeffirelli

Giovanni Grezzi/Salomé Raoult

Agence France-Presse

Florence, Italy  /  Tue, June 18, 2019  /  04:02 pm
Thousands gather to pay homage to Italian director Zeffirelli

Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli smiles during a ceremony at the British Embassy in Rome on November 24, 2004. (REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

Thousands of people lined up in central Florence Monday to pay their respects to Italian film-maker and opera director Franco Zeffirelli, who died at the weekend.

The crowd, many of whom had been queueing since early in the morning, broke into applause as the hearse carrying his coffin arrived at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's city hall.

They applauded again when four pall-bearers carried it past the replica of Michelangelo's statue of David and inside the building. It will lie in state there for a day.

Zeffirelli died on Saturday at the age of 96.

His funeral will take place on Tuesday at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) at the city's Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral.

Zeffirelli started out in theater but made his international reputation adapting classics to the screen, including many of Shakespeare's plays, attracting many major stars.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starred in his 1967 adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew and Zeffirelli was nominated for an Oscar for his 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet, with a then-unknown Olivia Hussey.

He directed Mel Gibson in a 1990 adaptation of Hamlet, with an all-star cast including Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Schofield and Ian Holm.

During a distinguished career as a theater director he staged Shakespeare productions at the writer's birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon, England and in some of London's top theaters.

He also directed operas at prestigious venues around the world collaborating with some of the greatest voices of his generation. 

Read also: Franco Zeffirelli, Italian film and opera director, dies at 96

'A great artist'

"The entire world knew the maestro, his work and what he leaves behind will live on forever because he was a great man," his son, film-maker Luciano Zeffirelli, told AFP.

"Florence was always on his mind. He was always asking me to take him there even when he didn't feel well," he added.

Zeffirelli was fiercely proud of his home city of Florence, making a 1966 documentary about it, Per Firenze (For Florence), shortly after devastating floods there.

Richard Burton lent his voice as narrator and the film raised $20 million towards restoration work in the city.

Zeffirelli also set up a foundation in the city dedicated to making his work widely accessible -- not just his films, but a library of 10,000 books, as well as preparatory sketches and scenery from his opera productions.

"As a Florentine by adoption, I feel very connected to him," said 56-year-old Alba Prosperi, one of those outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

"I have seen a lot of his films and yesterday I saw again the documentary that he made on the flooding of Florence. That brought back memories and I wanted to pay my respects," Prosperi added.

For 81-year-old Agostino Ringoni, it was his 1965 cinema adaptation of Puccini's La Boheme that stuck in his mind.

He "was a great artist, a great director", who was ahead of his time in his vision and his approach to directing, he added.

Zeffirelli will be laid to rest in the family chapel at Florence's Porte Sante cemetery.