Virginia Zeani


by Luminița Arvunescu
November 14, 2020
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of opera charm magazine


This year, Virginia Zeani turned 95 years old.

Celebration in West Palm Beach (Florida)- where the wonderful artist has lived since 1980- now a widow- her husband, the famous bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni died in 1991- but with her son’s family, Alessandro Rossi Lemeni. And, of course, a celebration for millions of fans, who continue to appreciate her career and celebrate her life.

L’Assoluta Virgina Zeani

It was written about Virginia Zeani – starting, it seems, from the statements of La Divina Maria Callas, that she was “the only rival recognized” by her. And that she would have had on stage, both – the “fire” of the soprano Montserrat Caballe, the “simplicity” of Ileana Cotrubaș and the “finesse” of Victoria de Los Angeles, as well as the eyes and brilliance of the Hollywood star Elisabeth Taylor. But more importantly, it was said that she could sing any role in the soprano repertoire, being nicknamed L’Assoluta: her repertoire covering 3 and a half centuries of music and summing up roles of a really diverse typology. From the coloring roles from the operas I Puritani and La Sonnambula (Bellini), Lucia di Lammermoor and L Elisir d Amore (Donizetti) to the roles of Verdi (Aida), French opera (Manon, Werther, Hoffmann’s Tales – she sang all 4 female roles in the same evening!), verismo opera (Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea), Russian opera (Evgheni Oneghin by P.I. Tchaikovsky) and even a Wagnerian role (Senta from The Flying Dutchman); and, from the preclassic opera heroine (Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare) to the modern opera heroine – Virginia Zeani being, in fact, the first performer of the role of Blanche in Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites and also of the role of Magda Sorel from the opera Consul by Menotti! What were, however, the roles that Zeani felt closest to her soul? Those from Puccini’s creation: Mimi, Manon Lescaut, Floria Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica. And the role that brought her the most applause and appreciation? Violetta Valery from Verdi’s La Traviata: sung 648 times in theatres across Europe, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and even in Cairo…

L’Assoluta Virginia Zeani, therefore, on the anniversary: 95 years of life – lived gloriously, 3 decades of career (1948-1978), 71 roles.

Splendid performer of Puccini’s roles and supporter of modern opera, but also the discoverer of forgotten scores such as: Alzira (Verdi), Maria di Rohan (Donizetti), Otello or Zelmira by Rossini: an artist for whose voice – is the opinion of the American musicologist Leonardo Ciampa – “a special category should have been invented”. Consideration to which, I would add, a special category of physical and mental beauty – because, smile and eyes like Virginia Zeani’s I have not seen at any other opera singer! – and in terms of the warmth and generosity of her being, I also find her without equal. But how long and difficult was the road to glory for the little girl born Virginia Zehan?….

Virginia Zeani – a life, a myth

She started by singing on the green hills of Solovăstru, a village in Transylvania. “And my mother was terrified that I would destroy my lungs”, – she would tell me, in one of our dialogues. She discovered opera at the age of 9: when, settled with her parents in Bucharest, a cousin – a student at the Conservatory, took her to the Opera where she saw a performance of Madama Butterfly by Puccini; a performance which impressed her so much that, when she returned home, she said, “I’m going to be an opera singer,” and she asked her parents for music lessons. She started studying music immediately, but – unfortunately, with the study of… the violin – because she received a violin from her cousin. And, she didn’t like it – throwing the instrument out the window in a moment of despair and abandoning the lessons, fortunately, not the idea of ​​becoming an opera singer! So, at the age of 11, we find her in the Primary School Choir, where her voice is immediately noticed. A year later, the choir conductor introduced her to one of the most appreciated singing teachers in Bucharest, Lucia Anghel – who gave her hope and actually discovered her artistic qualities, and at the age of 16, she ended up being listened to by the great soprano Lidya Lipkovska – former partner of Caruso and Șaliapin – who, for 5 years, developed her voice and laid the technical foundations. Lydia Lipkovska had studied in Milan with Vittorio Vanzo (Titta Ruffo’s teacher) and Antonio Cotogni (Caruso’s teacher). She shared with young Virginia a vocal technique that she would use for the rest of her life and that she, in turn, would teach Indiana University students: how to breathe and support the diaphragm, how to tighten the abdomen and the correct posture on stage, how to keep their facial expression in singing and use the Legato on Passagio… In addition, Lipkovska was the one who extended the ambitus of her voice to 3 octaves (from serious Sol to ContraFA) and “arranged”- through the conductor Egizio Massini (over the years, founding member of the Romanian Opera in Bucharest) a scholarship in Italy. She arrived in Italy on March 10th, 1947. After a 3-week voyage, with a few letters of recommendation from Lidya Lipkovska in her pocket and aboard a ship called – with extremely sensitive connotations for the 21-year-old – “Transylvania”. Her destination was Milan, where the famous soprano Stella Roman lived, born in Romania as well, in Cluj. But she was in the United States – caught up by the war with commitments at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York! – and Virginia Zehan finds Antonio Narducci in Stella Roman’s apartment – an important person, because he was Toscanini’s co-host at the Teatro alla Scala, in fact! – who listened to her, encouraged her and sent her after a few lessons to the famous Aureliano Pertile, known as “Puccini’s tenor”. Pertile was 62 years old at the time. And with him, she would perfect the belcanto technique of singing – relaxed, in a mask, as well as the ability to easily switch from extreme shades, full of passion, depending on the word. And when he thought she was ready, Pertile also recommended her to play the role of Violetta in La Traviata in the spring of 1948, at the Duse Theater in Bologna. The incumbent had fallen ill, and in her place, she made a debut – great! – a young woman named: VIRGINIA ZEANI…

That’s how Virginia Zeani’s career began. And another life for Virginia Zehan: that of an opera artist, a star in Italy. When did her story become a myth? When the world realized that Zeani had managed to establish – in an era dominated by the rivalry between Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi – the hegemony of her excellence: the excellence of a discreet artist, but of an unprecedented repertoire and stylistic openness. Many titles and awards would reward Virginia Zeani’ Excellency: the title of Commander of the Italian Republic and the Diapason D’Or, or La Voce D’Oro awards being just a few of them. However, none of these altered her modesty and common sense. And when she came to teach the Art of Singing in the United States (1980), at the prestigious Indiana University in Bloomington – with her husband, the famous Italian bass of Russian origin, Nicola Rossi Lemeni – she was called, with great sympathy, La Diva discretta. Discretion and elegance defining – even today – Mrs. Zeani’s existence: certainly one of the most beloved opera artists of this world …


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Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.


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