Young Toscanini (1988, aka Il giovane Toscanini)


The professional and personal career of famous Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (C. Thomas Howell, The Outsiders). The film concentrates on Toscanini’s early years, when he was touring South America in late 1880s.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Franco Zeffirelli’s Young Toscanini (aka Il giovane Toscanini) is probably the Italian director’s least discussed film. The film is, however, one of Zeffirelli’s most intriguing productions — a meditation on art, politics and social justice.

Bestselling author William Stadiem (Marilyn Monroe Confidential) wrote the screenplay. Despite its title, this is not a biopic. Toscanini is one of three main characters. Zeffirelli uses Toscanini’s early life as an excuse to explore the political and social environment of Brazil in the late 19th century. Toscanini’s arrival coincides with Brazil’s political implosion and the director chose to connect the two events.

 Zeffirelli clearly believes that artists have a moral responsibility and Young Toscanini is hell-bent on demonstrating that he is right. If life inspires art, is it possible for art to influence life? I’m not totally sold on the concept of artists as political agents, but I appreciated Zeffirelli’s efforts to prove his theory. The film’s main idea is not as clearly stated as it could have been, though. It’s all a bit muddled, but it’s a good try.

Young Toscanini was meant to be Elizabeth Taylor’s “comeback movie.” She hadn’t made a theatrical film in almost ten years and was eager to return to her former glory. Ironically, the film put an end to Taylor’s movie career. It’s a pity because she is great as an Opera Diva lured out of retirement by Toscanini. By the way, Taylor appears in black face, but I assure you that it does make sense in the context of the film.

C. Thomas Howell does a good job as Toscanini, but Taylor steals the film with her charismatic performance. The supporting cast is very good too: John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) is an enthusiastic impresario, Sophie Ward (A Demon in My View) plays Toscanini’s love interest and Philippe Noiret (Cinema Paradiso) is Emperor Dom Pedro. Franco Nero (Django) has a cameo as Toscanini’s father.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

 Zeffirelli came to prominence in late 1960s with a pair of Shakespearean movie adaptations — Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Rome and Juliet (1968) — but by late 1980s his best years were long-gone. Young Toscanini would further damage his already moribund career — it was a notorious critical & financial failure. Young Toscanini isn’t really a “forgotten gem.” The movie is flawed. However, the film is better than its reputation suggests. I think the movie deserves more love. It has an intriguing premise and good performances. Color, 109 minutes, Rated PG.

2 responses to “Young Toscanini (1988, aka Il giovane Toscanini)

  1. Thank you for featuring this little known gem, Eric. A very touching critique! LaTaylor doesn’t need to do a thing. She is the Diva! All in all, what a treat!

    Liked by 1 person

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