The Zeffirelli saga continues. According to the Corriere della sera, yesterday “lo Zeffirelli furioso” held what could mildly be described as an “animated” press conference in Rome for the presentation of the new season.

Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato, the top stars of the company, did not show up. She has also canceled her appearance in Falstaff, which is going to be Zeffirelli’s next production for Rome.

Zeffirelli was not gallant, sniping that Dessì is not fit for Traviata for vocal reasons. “She had a great career and in her current state she fears the audience’s reaction.”

At this point Gelmetti, the conductor, jumped in to defend Dessì: “I don’t agree on her vocal state. Dessì is in excellent vocal shape,” adding that she is still a very attractive woman: “As a man, I would definitely date her!”

Zeffirelli replied that “Dessì is splendid for Alice, but no longer Violetta; she is not close to my idea of Violetta, who is certainly not supposed to be a well-to-do woman with a husband that always takes care of her. I have seen the Violettas of this production, they are very close to the idea I have of Violetta. I prefer to think of Traviata as an opera for young people. This is perhaps the most beautiful Traviata I have ever done, even better than the one I did with Callas. I get all emotional seeing these two young singers who are truly believable. My judgement of Dessì is not about the artist, but about the fact that she is not giving me the Violetta I have in my heart.”

Before this, there was a fight between the director and a journalist. Zeffirelli was telling about a Traviata he had seen in Hamburg, where Violetta’s party was taking place in a brothel, with the prostitutes using the bidet (“fare il bidet,” he says) behind a transparent screen. Zeffirelli concluded, “after all, they are whores, they need to wash, they are there to do things ‘alla Marrazzo’.”  Now, a small parenthesis to explain this dig. Piero Marrazzo was the governor of the region Lazio, a left-wing liberal politician, who had to resign last month because he was videotaped having sex with transgendered prostitutes.

At this point, journalist Livia Bidoli reacted indignantly, saying that these insults could with equal justice be applied to Zeffirelli’s crony Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, then suggested that Zeffirelli should stop keeping saying things like these.

Zeffirelli flew into a rage and (speaking of Berlusconi) said “You are insulting a friend a mine, a man of valor,” adding “This is a serious theater. Go away, you cretin rascal [mascalzona cretina], you asshole [stronza], go fuck off [vada a fare in culo]. You don’t belong here, how dare you! Berlusconi is a friend of mine, an extraordinary man.”