Opera Daily 🎶 — Remembering Virginia Zeani
This week's Opera Daily features an absolute legend, the one and only Romanian soprano, Virginia Zeani
👋 Hello to the new Opera Daily subscribers who have joined us this week. I hope you’re sitting on a plushy couch with a warm beverage and enjoying your weekend. You can check out the complete Opera Daily archives and the playlist on YouTube for more selections. If you were forwarded this email by a friend, join us by subscribing here:
This week, the opera world lost a star and a remarkable woman, the Romanian soprano Virginia Zeani.
As a former student of this extraordinary musician and artist, I wanted to pay tribute to Virginia Zeani by taking a trip down memory lane, remembering her spectacular career, the beautiful music she made with so many and the most important lesson she taught me that I will never forget.
Born in Solovăstru, a village in central Transylvania, Romania, Virginia Zeani's passion for opera was ignited at the age of nine when she first experienced Madama Butterfly. Determined to become an opera singer, she began her studies in Bucharest at 13. At 16, she met the renowned Russian coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkovska, who had performed with Caruso and was a bel canto expert.
In March 1947, Zeani embarked on a journey to Italy to further her studies and pursue her operatic dreams. Under the guidance of Aureliano Pertile, the celebrated tenor of the Toscanini era, she honed her craft. Later in Milan, she studied with La Scala's finest coaches, such as Luigi Ricci, who had worked with Puccini and Mascagni in Rome. These mentors instilled in her the art of bel canto, style, expression, articulation, diction, sound projection, and character creation.
“Bel canto really is, in the end, a way to make every single person in the opera house, including yourself, feel the most beautiful things in the world."
— Virginia Zeani
Zeani's debut in Verdi's La Traviata at Teatro Duse in Bologna in May 1948 was a huge success. Violetta became her signature role, with a staggering 648 performances throughout her career. She even sang for King Farouk of Egypt in 1950, marking her first appearance outside Italy.
Early in her career, Zeani performed lyric soprano bel canto roles, Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Adina in Donizetti’s L'elisir d'Amore, and Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani.
She met her future husband, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, during a 1952 performance of Bellini's I Puritani in Florence.
Zeani's La Scala debut in Milan came in 1956, as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, alongside Franco Corelli and her future husband, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. They married three months later, welcoming their son Alessandro a year after.
In January 1957, she premiered as Blanche in Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites at La Scala.
Over two decades, Zeani expanded her repertoire to include spinto and dramatic roles. She sang 67 operas, gracing stages worldwide alongside the era’s most renowned singers and conductors.
Her collaboration with her husband spanned 14 operas and three centuries of repertoire. They joined Indiana University in 1980 and taught together until his passing in 1991. Both were honored as distinguished professors of music.
Her dedication to her students continued even after retiring from IU, teaching from her Florida home. Zeani's lessons, masterclasses, and guidance shaped successful careers for her students, who now perform in top opera houses and teach in top universities and conservatories worldwide, carrying on her legacy.
I wanted to finish the post with two videos of Virginia Zeani: the first one is her singing one of my favorite arias, “Chi il bel sogno” from Puccini's La Rondine, and then the second one is Zeani listening to herself sing the aria.
I love how emotional she gets.
Humans often spend too much time disliking what we hear when we speak, sing, or perform. But she truly loved herself. She was proud of herself for all that she has done and been through. Like we all should be. This is the most important lesson she taught me that I will never forget.
Thank you Ms. Zeani — you are loved.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured one of the most viewed operatic performances on YouTube.
❤️ If you enjoyed this selection, please hit the heart to like it (and share it too!)