|Year of Birth:||1925|
Virginia Zeani (born Virginia Zehan; 21 October 1925), Commendatore OMRI is a Romanian-born opera singer who sang leading soprano roles in the opera houses of Europe and North America. As a singer, she was known for her dramatic intensity and the beauty, wide range, and suppleness of her voice which allowed her to sing a repertoire of 69 roles ranging from the heroines in belcanto operas by Rossini and Donizetti to those of Wagner, Puccini and Verdi. She also created roles in several 20th-century operas, including Blanche in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites. Zeani made her professional debut in 1948 as Violetta in La traviata which would become one of her signature roles. After her retirement from the stage in 1982, she became a well-known voice teacher. She was married to the Italian bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni from 1957 until his death in 1991. A Distinguished Professor Emerita at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music where she taught for many years, Zeani lives in Palm Beach County, Florida and has continued to teach singing privately.
Zeani was born on 21 October 1925 in Solovăstru, a central Transylvania village located in Romania. She has described to interviewers a childhood where despite bronchial troubles, she was always singing, even when she was fetching water from the river for cooking. She said that music had "entered her soul" after hearing a band of gypsies one of whom was playing a hora on the violin, and at the age of nine she became determined to be an opera singer after hearing a performance of Madame Butterfly. When she was 13 a benefactor in the village paid for her to study singing in Bucharest, first with Lucia Anghel, and then with Lydia Lipkowska. Zeani sought out Lipkowska when she had begun to doubt Anghel's assesement of her voice as a mezzo-soprano. Lipkowska agreed that her voice was that of a soprano and trained her in that repertotire. After World War II ended she emigrated to Italy and continued her vocal studies in Milan. By then she knew the leading soprano roles in four operas by heart—the title role in Manon, Marguerite in Faust, Violetta in La traviata and Mimì in La bohème. In Milan she had extensive coaching with the conductor Antonio Narducci. She also sought out the tenor Aureliano Pertile who had long been one of her idols for the beauty of his phrasing and diction. She called at his house and according to Zeani, when he opened the door she burst into tears and was unable to speak. Pertile's wife ushered her inside and after talking to her Pertile accepted her as a student on a non-paying basis, giving her private lessons and allowing her to attend his master-classes. She repaid him by running errands and helping his wife with household chores.