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Virginia Zeani, famend and versatile opera diva, dies at 97


Virginia Zeani, a Romanian-born soprano who had an extended profession in Italy and the USA and was internationally identified for the flexibility and dramatic depth of her performances, died March 20 at a nursing dwelling in Palm Seashore Gardens, Fla. She was 97 and had lengthy been settled in West Palm Seashore.

The demise was introduced by her son and solely rapid survivor, Alessandro Rossi-Lemeni, who mentioned the trigger was a cardiac respiratory sickness.

Ms. Zeani was equally at dwelling in the usual Italian repertory, within the lighter Wagnerian soprano roles, within the bel canto operas of Rossini and Donizetti, or in one of many many world premieres that she sang. Essentially the most notable premiere was Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at La Scala in 1957, during which she sang the position of the unstable and conflicted Sister Blanche.

However her specialty was the position of Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” which she sang greater than 600 occasions after her first efficiency in 1948 in Bologna, most of them at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. Violetta is a large problem for a singing actress, as a result of each act makes totally different musical and dramatic calls for.

The vigorous first act, when Violetta falls in love amid the elegant grandeur of a Paris social gathering, has a lot of the excessive notes. Act II is all drama, the character is all of a sudden matured and going through probably the most painful determination of her life, whereas the ultimate act is a protracted demise scene, full with ultimate reunions and non secular awakening.

In an interview this week, Matthew Epstein, a impresario based mostly in New York with greater than 50 years’ specialty within the vocal repertory and a pal of Ms. Zeani’s, referred to as her “the perfect all-around Violetta” he ever witnessed. “Vocally, bodily, histrionically, linguistically — she had all of it and she or he embodied the position.”

But Ms. Zeani had an uncommon profession in the USA. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1966, just a few weeks after the corporate had moved into its huge new Lincoln Middle dwelling.

Preparations had been chaotic. She got here instantly from the airport, had no rehearsal in any way, and was successfully thrown onto the stage to sing “Traviata” in an auditorium that even the stagehands barely knew. The viewers was ecstatic, however the critics weren’t (though each the New York Instances and the Day by day Information famous a definite enchancment after Act I).

In any occasion, Ms. Zeani sang solely two of her three scheduled performances and returned to Europe.

In 1967, she sang a single out of doors efficiency of one other Verdi opera, “I Vespri Siciliani,” with the Met touring firm in Newport, R.I. She appeared in the home solely as soon as extra, when the visiting Rome Opera introduced Rossini’s hardly ever heard setting of “Otello” (written with librettist Francesco Maria Berio) to New York in 1968.

Apparently, Rudolf Bing, the Met’s omnipotent normal supervisor, had needed to deliver Ms. Zeani to the USA to remain for an prolonged time frame, and she or he had refused. She had married the Italian operatic bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in 1957 and she or he preferred her life in Europe, the place the opera world was extra informal.

“I had no supervisor,” she informed the Palm Seashore Submit in 2013. “Folks heard you had been profitable in Milan and so forth, and they’d e book you. After I married Nicola, I used to be not residing the lifetime of an incredible diva. I like a quiet life. In Rome, Nicola and I had been invited each night time to golf equipment and so forth, and I by no means went. I used to be afraid that the cigarette smoke would harm my voice.”

A spotlight of her Italian years was the world premiere of “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” She discovered the composer charming. “He was elegant in all his manifestations,” Ms. Zeani informed the Fort Lauderdale Solar-Sentinel in 2004. “Quite simple, smiling on the time. If he had one thing to say it was solely to appropriate the intentions of the phrasing.”

“Everyone was anticipating one thing miraculous,” she added. “As quickly as we began rehearsals, it was really easy to study. The music was like a poem. You discovered with curiosity, you discovered with religiosity.”

“Dialogues” was an enormous and sturdy success: It is without doubt one of the solely late Twentieth-century works to enter the usual operatic repertory. Ms. Zeani made her final stage look within the work, when she performed the extra senior position of Mom Marie on the San Francisco Opera in a gala efficiency in 1982.

By then, she and her husband had been newly established as voice lecturers at Indiana College’s music faculty. She continued instructing there after Rossi-Lemeni’s demise in 1991 and was made distinguished professor of music in 1994. Her pupils included Vivica Genaux, Sylvia McNair, Marilyn Mims, Mark Nicolson and Elizabeth Futral, all of whom went on to sing with main corporations.

After Ms. Zeani’s retirement in 2004, she loved her most thorough worldwide renown. She had recorded sparingly, however previous clips of her performances had made their approach to social media and she or he discovered a brand new era of enthusiastic followers.

“To listen to Virginia Zeani sing — thank God for YouTube! — is to be catapulted again to a time when the Earth was well-populated with massively gifted operatic sopranos whose partisans made the case for his or her favourite’s superiority with the identical fervor baseball followers dropped at the everlasting query of Mantle vs. Mays,” journalist and creator Scott Eyman noticed within the Palm Seashore Submit.

“Her presence on YouTube in a sequence of movies made for the Italian RAI community, in addition to a number of bootleg recordings, constitutes an incredible discovery,” he continued. “Zeani had a darkish, sensuous voice that spanned just below three octaves, shifting simply over the notes with no sense of stress, speaking a ardour that elevates the notes.”

She was born Virginia Zehan on Oct. 21, 1925, in Solovastru, a Transylvanian village within the coronary heart of Romania. Her mother and father had been farmers who quickly moved to Bucharest to pursue a greater life.

A efficiency of “Madama Butterfly” that she heard when she was 9 impressed her to turn into an opera singer. Ms. Zeani made her debut in a Bologna efficiency of “La Traviata” at 22. She had informed the corporate that she had sung the position earlier than, then stitched her personal robe from cloth she had purchased in a avenue market.

She met her future husband whereas showing with him in operas during which she had solely seen him in full costume in aged roles. She mentioned she was startled when she discovered that he was a good-looking man and nonetheless in his 30s. She accepted his proposal of marriage inside a month.

On the event of her ninetieth birthday, Ms. Zeani gave an interview to the web site Gramilano during which she declared herself completely happy but in addition affected by arthritis and different illnesses.

“After dying so many occasions and falling down on stage in La Traviata and so forth, by the top of a life there may be ache all over the place,” she mentioned. “However I can nonetheless breathe and assume and love.”


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