Virginia Zeani, Soprano
was born Virginia Zehan, on or about the 21st October 1925, in Solovastru, a village in central Transylvania, Romania. From an early age she was always singing, at home, at school and in choirs, and at the age of nine she fell in love with opera after seeing a production of Madama Butterfly. At thirteen she began taking serious vocal lessons with Lucia Anghel in Bucharest who, because of the richness of her sound, considered her to be a mezzo soprano. Unconvinced she moved on to study with the famous coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkowska who swiftly and expertly opened up Zeani’s full range and moulded her into a fine lirico leggero soprano. She also coached her in the complete roles of Violetta, Mimi, Marguerite and Massenet’s Manon, which became the calling cards of her early career.
Her singing for the Italian Cultural Society in Bucharest so impressed the Italian Ambassador, the Italian Consul and the Press Attaché that they arranged permission for her to study in Italy. In March 1947 aged twenty one, and with an established range from low g to top f, she travelled to Milan to work with the legendary veteran tenor Aureliano Pertile. In addition to the great help he gave her, Zeani also learned from Toscanini’s coaches at La Scala. The traditions passed on to her by Narducci, Fornarini, Gennai and Tonini in Milan and by Piazza, Marini and especially Luigi Ricci, the former repetiteur of Puccini and Mascagni, in Rome aided her dramatic ability to create characters with her voice.
Pertile considered her vocally well prepared and ready to make her debut and he encouraged her to audition for some of the regional opera companies. In May 1948 an opportunity arose when the soprano Margherita Carosio fell ill and the Teatro Duse in Bologna needed a replacement. So, at the age of twenty two and with no previous stage experience, Zeani made her professional debut in what was to become her greatest role, that of Violetta in La traviata. The performance was so successful that the stunned conductor immediately offered her a tour of thirty more performances. Violetta was a role she would sing over 600 times around the world during her career. Her partner that evening was tenor Arrigo Pola (Alfredo), the voice teacher of Luciano Pavarotti.
Maria will be eternally grateful for the privilege of being able to study with Ms. Zeani during her time at Indiana University. She is a much-loved and respected teacher.