Byline: Jackie Cooperman
MILAN — Franco Zeffirelli — the director, set designer, costumer and painter — has returned to Milan to star in his own retrospective at the Trussardi art gallery.
“It’s a collection in progress,” says Zeffirelli, 77, who first exhibited a portion of his sketches and paintings 12 years ago in Tokyo. Since then, he has shown them in Athens, Tel Aviv, Florence and Rome. The show here includes more than 100 paintings, costumes, film clips and sketches.
The show, entitled “Franco Zeffirelli, The Art of Performance: Works of Set Design,” follows the maestro’s varied career. Works include the sets he designed for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” in 1948, an elaborate series of drawings imagining a reconstructed Shilo Temple in Jerusalem, and set paintings for Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” which Zeffirelli will direct in Verona next June.
“It’s important that this show is not just a melancholy walk down memory lane,” says Zeffirelli, who hopes to move the exhibition to New York.
Indeed, the presentation succeeds in evoking a life richly lived, with sweeping locations — Zeffirelli has directed operas, films and dramas in nearly every world capital — and powerful characters, including his work with many of the late 20th century’s most prominent writers, performers and directors: Luchino Visconti, Anna Magnani, Edward Albee, Tennessee Willliams and Dame Maggie Smith, among them. The show also devotes a room to photographs and costumes of the legendary soprano Maria Callas, whom Zeffirelli directed between 1955 and 1965 in “Il Turco in Italia,” “La Traviata,” “Tosca” and “Norma.”
“These were four milestones in my career as a director, and in my friendship with Callas,” says Zeffirelli, who recovered some of the diva’s elaborate costumes four years ago.
“I asked the wardrobe manager of La Scala, ‘Is it possible that there are no costumes worn by Maria? Did you destroy everything?’ And the old man whispered in my ear that there were some hidden away in plastic bags,” Zeffirelli said, recalling Callas’s gilded costume for “La Traviata” in 1958.
“The costume makers found what was left of a collection of Christian Dior. There were only 10 yards. We used every inch of it to make the costume,” he says. Although that particular costume was lost, the exhibition contains a photograph of Callas wearing her couture dress.
“Callas had a waistline like a wasp, a beautiful neck line and beautiful skin,” he says. “No other woman could wear it.”
The exhibit also includes a few costumes of Cher’s, whom Zeffirelli directed in 1998’s “Tea With Mussolini,” and concludes with five vibrantly colored paintings, his preparatory work for Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”
Adding that admirers seem surprised at its bold palette, he says, “I wanted to break with the past and open up new avenues. They say, ‘You’ve changed your style,’ but I did ‘After The Fall’ with Arthur Miller in 1965. We used projections of Marilyn Monroe on screens, and it was very shocking at the time.”
Zeffirelli, who is about to start shooting a film on Callas’s life, insists that he doesn’t like to dwell in the past.
“What matters is the future, with the troubles and uncertainties and the possible successes. We must move on.”