Soprano quits opera after Zeffirelli’s insults

Daniela Dessì walks out of La traviata after director’s comments about her size and age


Established Italian soprano Daniela Dessì has left a production of Verdi’s La traviata because the director, veteran film-maker Franco Zeffirelli, now 86, had publically abused her about her weight and age. As reported in The Times, Zeffirelli said: ‘A woman of a certain age and plumpness is not credible in the character of Violetta.’


Dessì had been scheduled to play the role of Violetta, a physically slight courtesan before the comments were made. Dessì aged 52, who only weighs 65kg (10st 3lb) said: ‘Zeffirelli said these things and more offensive things. I believe a lot in the physical appearance of the singer. I have always taken care of myself. We should be respected for our voices. To be too thin is not good.’ The soprano also highlighted that other larger sopranos such as Monserrat Caballé had interpreted the role without any comment about physical appearance.

When asked if he had any regret about what he had said, Zeffirelli told The Times: ‘I did say she was on the plump side for the part, and she is.’ Meanwhile Dessì is consulting lawyers about the possibility of legal action.

Dessì has made many top-class recordings including Mozart’s Così fan tutte, in which her role of Fiordiligi was described in BBC Music Magazine as ‘the pearl of the performance’. She famously performed with Luciano Pavarotti in Verdi’s Don Carlo at La Scala in 1992, with Zeffirelli directing.