Italians bid final farewell to 'maestro' Zeffirelli

Florence (Italy) (AFP) –


Thousands of people paid a final homage to Italian film-maker and opera director Franco Zeffirelli at his funeral in Florence's cathedral on Tuesday.

"The maestro Zeffirelli wasn't just an artist, he was a genius," Florence mayor Dario Nardella told around 1,500 people in the renowned Duomo of Zeffirelli's Tuscan hometown.

Thousands more people gathered outside the cathedral to bid a final farewell to Zeffirelli, who died at home on Saturday, aged 96.

"Zeffirelli represented Florence in the world, but also the world in Florence. He loved this city," said Nardella.

Archbishop Giuseppe Betori officiated at the ceremony in the presence of the director's foster sons, Luciano Zeffirelli and Pippo Zeffirelli, and Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli.

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

Zeffirelli was fiercely proud of his home city, 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.

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