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By Alan McGuinness, news reporter

Revered Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, famed for a film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and for staging extravagant opera productions, has died aged 96.

He passed away at his home in Rome, his son Luciano said, adding he "had suffered for a while, but he left in a peaceful way".

Zeffirelli was the last of a generation of Italian film giants who came of age after World War Two, also including Federico
Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.

The director won fans worldwide with his romantic vision and lavish productions, with his style most famously captured in his cinematic rendering of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Image: Zeffirelli worked with a string of stars, including Luciano Pavarotti

His 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet was a hit with critics and performed well at the box office. It also earned him an Oscar nomination for best director. A second nomination came in 1982 for his work as art director for La Traviata.

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Zeffirelli was also known for the lavish TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, but his name was inextricably linked to the theatre and opera.

He produced classics for the world's most famous opera houses and plays for London and Italian stages.

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He once likened himself to a sultan with a harem of three: film, theatre and opera.

"I am not a film director. I am a director who uses different instruments to express his dreams and his stories – to make people dream," Zeffirelli told the Associated Press in a 2006 interview.

Zeffirelli was one of Italy's most prolific directors, working on stage with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and his beloved Maria Callas.

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