By Justin Davidson
My colleague at New York, Rebecca Milzoff, was treated to a dose of Franco Zeffirelli’s prodigious self-mythologizing last week. After the Met literally stopped the show (a performance of La Bohème) for a round of onstage festivities in his honor, Zeffirelli, 84, graciously confided to her that the affair “had the smell of ashes.” He was referring to future cinders, actually, to be produced by a metaphorical pyre in which his eight Met productions – “masterpieces,” in his opinion – will shortly perish.
It’s true that his beribboned, teeming, polychrome, and elaborately distressed décors are out of step with the Met’s sleeker, more moderne aesthetic, and that Peter Gelb has announced plans to start replacing them. But Gelb has also bestowed provisional immortality on two productions–La Bohème and Turandot. In many seasons, the Met has looked rather like a Zeffirelli museum, and the director would apparently like that arrangement formalized. Perhaps in the course of the current renovation, Lincoln Center might replace the plaza fountain with a statue of the great man, and lay at his feet a cornucopia of picturesquely expiring sopranos.