Virginia Zeani, (born 21 October 1925) is a Romanian dramatic coloratura soprano, regarded as one of the great sopranos of the 20th century and one of the great musical personalities in the history of Romania. The Venetian Arts Society named her "one of the most vocally and artistically gifted of the Grand Divas of the Golden Age" and a "Super Star in the history of opera".
Known both for her golden voice and her impeccable technique, Virginia Zeani is also famous for being one of the most beautiful opera singers of all time. Federico Fellini said that Virginia Zeani personified for him "the beauty of the opera singer" and confessed in a letter that he used to secretly admire her in the mornings when she was making vocalizations.
Maria Callas's former husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, once told Zeani: "Virginia, I have to tell you, you are one of the very few sopranos my wife is frightened of!"
She is one of the greatest interpreters of the role of Violetta Valéry (from Verdi's La traviata) in recorded history, being often called by the press and opera lovers "Violetta supreme". She is also the artist with the greatest number of performances in the role of Violetta ever, with an estimated 648 interpretations.
In addition to her success as Violetta, Zeani was one of the first sopranos in the world to sing all three principal soprano roles of The Tales of Hoffmann in a single performance and the first one to do so in the history of La Scala.
For a quarter of a century, from 1981 to 2004, Zeani was a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Zeani retired from the operatic stage in 1982, but, together with her husband, Nicola Rossi Lemeni, in 1980 began to teach singing at the music school in Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington. The couple were later both honored as "Distinguished Professors". After her husband's death in 1991 she taught at IU for many more years before moving to Florida where she continues to teach talented young singers. In 2010, having taught for thirty years, the magazine Classical Singer named her "Teacher of the Year".
Amongst Zeani's most famous pupils are Sylvia McNair, Susan Patterson, Angela Brown, Stephen Mark Brown, Elizabeth Futral, Marilyn Mims, Vivica Genaux, Mark Nicolson, Heidi Klassen, James Valenti, El￮na Garan￨a and Ailyn P￩rez.
Virginia Zeani has influenced numerous artists including Luciano Pavarotti, Pl￡cido Domingo and Angela Gheorghiu, and enjoyed the admiration of many other personalities, such as Grace Kelly, Federico Fellini, Tyrone Power, Francis Poulenc, Ildebrando Pizzetti and Gian Carlo Menotti.
In 1961, Luciano Pavarotti made his international debut next to Zeani, in a performance of La traviata, in Belgrade. Referring to the influence she had on him, Pavarotti recalled singing with Zeani as being his "very great fortune" and an "extraordinary experience", stating that he "learned very much from her intensity and commitment to her art, as well as from her great musicality." Pavarotti dedicated to her, in a concert in Indianapolis, the famous aria "Donna non vidi mai!" ("I have never seen a woman like her!") from Puccini's opera, Manon Lescaut.
Plácido Domingo sang his first des Grieux with her in Manon Lescaut.
In 1999, conductor Richard Bonynge named Zeani among the greatest voices he had ever heard, other than his wife, Joan Sutherland: "The voices I most remember are Flagstad, Virginia Zeani and Renata Tebaldi."
In a 2010 letter to Zeani, send by both Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, the two express "the extraordinary thrill" of hearing Zeani for the first time in 1957: "You have no idea the profound impression you made on us. We had never heard in the flesh a bel canto soprano so opulent, so lush, and so velvety. A voice with a great technique, an incredible extension and full of emotion."
Soprano Nelly Miricioiu said that "her legacy is incomparable" and emphasized the power of example that Virginia Zeani still has in the world of opera: "The beauty and artistry of Virginia Zeani are legendary and in our world of easy personality, her humanity, kindness and modesty are always talked about and revered by her colleagues".
Talking about the influence Zeani had on her, Angela Gheorghiu said: "She made a great impact on me. [...] In her performances, she had the most beautiful and powerful voice, a wonderful technique, a marvellous range of colors, and a very strong force of interpretation. She had an incredibly wide repertoire - virtually all the styles, and important premieres too. "Gheorghiu regards Zeani as "a major part of our operatic history" and the "embodiment of diva or divine".
Soprano Teresa Stratas considers Zeani the most beautiful Violetta Valéry she had ever seen or heard. Stratas has also expressed her admiration for Zeani's "ravishing" beauty and "equally exquisite voice". She wrote in a letter to her: "I can still feel the throb of your heart in that perfect vibrato. You enveloped us in your warm, liquid, even tone and drew us in to experience your joy and your heartbreak. Indescribable, really."