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Director Franco Zeffirelli collaborated with soprano Maria Callas in her prime—their 1957 stage production of La traviata is the stuff of operatic legend—and his 2002 drama conveys the intimacy, admiration, and exasperation of their long-standing friendship. Fanny Ardant plays the middle-aged singer in 1976, living as a recluse in Paris and still smarting from her rejection by Aristotle Onassis and her disastrous farewell recital; Jeremy Irons is the Zeffirelli surrogate, a gay impresario who used to manage Callas and is now urging her to star in a film version of Carmen (with the vocal to be dubbed from an old recording). Ardant embodies the diva's dazzling blend of glamour, hauteur, and vulnerability, and despite a faintly campy script by Martin Sherman, Zeffirelli captures the artistic imperative that drives both characters—and deepens their loneliness. 103 min.

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