On October 21, legendary soprano Virginia Zeani celebrates her 95th birthday. Born in Romania, she made her début in 1948 as Violetta in La Traviata at the Teatro Duse in Bologna. This role, which she performed a total of 648 times, led her to perform in the greatest theatres of the world, including the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Royal Opera House in London and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. With a repertoire ranging from baroque opera to contemporary works, she was chosen by Francis Poulenc to create the role of Blanche de la Force in the world premiere of the Dialogues of the Carmelites at La Scala in 1957.
She made her North American début in Montréal in 1965, again in the role of Violetta. After singing light-lyric soprano roles for almost 15 years, she was persuaded by Zubin Mehta to expand her repertoire and tackle heavier roles like Aida, which she first performed at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, alongside Jon Vickers, Lili Chookasian, Louis Quilico and Joseph Rouleau. She returned to Montréal in 1968 for a production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Her exceptionally long career, 34 years in total, allowed her to share the stage with some of the 20th century’s greatest stars, from Beniamino Gigli, Giuseppe di Stefano and Franco Corelli to Alfredo Kraus, Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo.
She retired from the stage in 1982, making her début at the San Francisco Opera in the Dialogues of the Carmelites, this time as Mother Marie. She and her husband, bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni, were subsequently offered teaching positions at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where she was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor of Music in 1994. Among her many students are Ailyn Perez, Elizabeth Futral, Marilyn Mims and Vivica Genaux.
She now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and continues to teach occasionally.
To find out more about Virginia Zeani, visit virginiazeani.org