On Sunday 29 October we visited the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation where the exhibition with original posters from the films of the great Italian director Franco Zeffirelli will be hosted until 31 October. On the first and second floors of the hospitable Foundation, lovers of high aesthetics and, by extension, of Franco Zeffirelli’s work, have the opportunity to browse through the Italian director’s multifaceted cinematic oeuvre. On the one hand, one can admire posters of his immortal hits, such as Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Romeo and Juliet (1968, which, apart from being the first time the Italian film maestro was nominated for an Oscar, he took the radical step of preserving the original age of Shakespeare’s heroes by casting the then teenagers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the leading actors), his operatic Othello (1986) and, of course, his love letter to Maria Callas, Callas Forever (2002).
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968)
In the context of this exhibition, the Instituto Italiano di Cultura organised a screening of Franco Zeffirelli’s latest film, Callas Forever, on Sunday 29 October at the same venue. The guests arrived as early as seven o’clock in the afternoon, where they enjoyed traditional Italian delicacies (wine, cherry tomatoes, and cheese) in the foyer of the Institute’s cinema hall.
Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
The film, produced in 2002, is a fictional story in which a former manager of Maria Callas, Larry Kelly (played by Jeremy Irons), visits the great diva in Paris to propose a grand comeback. Only instead of a theatrical production, Larry Kelly wants to rescue Callas’ performance as Carmen on film. This is a first-class opportunity for the great soprano to play a role she never played on stage but only recorded. However, she is struggling with her personal demons and her artistic integrity, as Larry Kelly proposes that Maria Callas’ scenes be dubbed with the existing – twenty years ago – recordings of Bizet’s Carmen.
Franco Zeffirelli, who worked with Maria Callas both at La Scala in Milan and in opera productions in America and England, is perhaps the ideal scriptwriter to bring to the big screen some of the experiences he had with the great diva. Therefore, despite Fanny Ardant’s sublime performance as Callas, the viewer will learn much about the great diva’s emotional fluctuations through Jeremy Irons’ role. In his autobiography (“Zeffirelli, The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli“, 1986), the Italian filmmaker notes about the emotional imprint left on her psyche by her relationship with Aristotle Onassis, which can be traced in the film’s most agonizing sequences: “There is no doubt that she loved Onassis and if he had married her, the story would have ended like a fairy tale. […] He was in love with the power, the prestige, the fame that Maria secured for him, more than he was in love with her herself.”
Franco Zeffirelli’s Callas Forever (2002)
Above all, the film Callas Forever is a hymn by the great filmmaker to the art of dreams, that is, the art of cinema. What he never managed to realize – a film with Callas as Traviata in the American era – is realized through the fictional hero of the script. In addition to the Chanel costumes, the viewer is sure to admire the filmed opera scenes-scenes that recall Zeffirelli’s background in opera staging.