Honoring the Masters. Sharing the Journey.

Virginia Zeani

Singer, Voice Teacher
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Biography

The voice is only an instrument. But you have to give to this voice the heart. The tears. The joy. The poetry. They are everything, you know. It’s what makes the singer. -Virginia Zeani

Virginia Zeani was a leading operatic soprano and a world-renowned voice teacher. She was born on October 21, 1925, in the small town of Solovastru, Romania. Zeani decided to become an opera singer at the age of nine when she heard a performance of Madama Butterfly. A benefactor in her village paid for Zeani to take voice lessons in her teen years. She was able to emigrate to Italy after World War II ended and sought out one of her operatic idols, Aureliano Pertile, who agreed to teach her. Zeani’s professional debut was in 1948, when she stepped in as a last-minute replacement for the soprano scheduled to sing the role of Violetta in La Traviata at Teatro Duse in Bologna. During the course of her career, she would perform this role over 640 times.

Zeani sang a total of 68 operatic roles in all the world’s major opera houses. At the start of her career, she sang coloratura soprano roles and gradually transitioned to more dramatic repertoire. Besides Violetta in La Traviata, her most famous roles include Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Elvira in I puritani, Gilda in Rigoletto, and the title roles in Aida, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, and Fedora. A pivotal moment in Ms. Zeani’s career was when she performed the lead role of Blanche in the premiere of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites at La Scala in 1957. Zeani was especially proud of the fact that during her long, decades-long career, she only canceled two performances. 

What set Zeani apart was not merely her vocal virtuosity but the emotive power she infused into every performance. Many compared her to the legendary soprano, Maria Callas, who was also known for her acting prowess. Giovanni Battista Meneghini, the husband of Maria Callas, told Zeani she was “one of the very few sopranos that my wife is frightened of.” 

In 1980, Zeani began teaching voice at Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music, along with her husband, Italian bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. Her final operatic performance took place in 1982, performing Mother Marie in In Dialogues of the Carmelites. 1994, she was named Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University. Her pupils included Vivica Genaux, Sylvia McNair, Marilyn Mims, Mark Nicolson, and Elizabeth Futral, all of whom had major opera careers. After retiring from Indiana University in 2004, she taught privately out of her home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Zeani died at the age of 97 on March 20, 2023, in Palm Beach, Florida. Memories of her illustrious career and all of the lives she touched as a voice teacher live on.

“What I learned about the Italian bel canto technique from Ms. Zeani not only helped me have an international singing career, but it has made all the difference in my career as a voice teacher. It changed my life forever.”
-Marilyn Mims (Metropolitan Opera soprano)

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/21/arts/music/virginia-zeani-dead.html

https://virginiazeani.org/

https://www.gramilano.com/2023/03/interview-virginia-zeani-1925-2023/

https://music.indiana.edu/news-events/news/info/2018/10/iu-operas-dialogues-of-the-carmelites-unites-generations.html

https://faultbook.blogspot.com/2010/10/virginia-zeani-my-favorite-soprano.html

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