Singers on Singing :
Virginia Zeani

Singers on Singing: Virginia Zeani

From her early days as a brilliant lyric coloratura to her later years as a resonant dramatic spinto, Virginia Zeani (b. 1925) sang 68 roles in Italian, French, German and Russian operas covering a time span from the baroque era to the 1960s. Her command of styles, her powerful expressive colours, and her subtle musical phrasing could be heard in international opera houses from 1947, when she made her debut in Bologna, until 1982 when she decided to retire from the stage. By then, though, she was already greatly in demand in a related career.

With her husband, the distinguished bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni, she had since 1980 been exerting a vital influence on a new generation of highly gifted young singers she was teaching at the Indiana University School of Music. In recent years she has been continuing to hand down her lifetime’s experience to highly talented students in the privacy of her home in Florida. That experience has included her own education in the hands of some of the most important singing teachers and repétiteurs of the first half of the 20th Century, and they are among the many people she recalled when she gave an interview about her life and career that was published by Opera magazine in 2009. An extended version was published by Classic Record Collector later the same year.

The original interview, recorded by Skype from Virginia Zeani’s home, is being published in audio form here and it includes some materials that are appearing for the first time. Virginia Zeani began at the very start of her life, which commenced in Romania on the 21st of October 1925, and discussed her early childhood, growing up, voice lessons, emigrating to Italy, coaching from Antonio Narducci, and debut as Violetta in Bologna in 1947.

Other topics of discussion include:

  • Lessons from Aureliano Pertile
  • Debut in London in 1953, singing Violetta, and ensuing years
  • Selection by Francis Poulenc to sing Blanche in the world premiere of Dialogues des Carmélites in 1957, and rehearsing with Poulenc
  • Debut at Royal Opera House Covent Garden, singing Violetta on one day’s notice in 1960
  • Singing Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with Plácido Domingo (as Des Grieux), making his debut at the
  • Barcelona Opera in 1971
  • Friendship with Angela Gheorghiu and a tribute to her special artistic qualities
  • Private teaching after retiring from Indiana University, and imparting not just vocal technique and style but also stage performance and audience communication awareness
  • Performing the role of Manon Lescaut
  • Performing the role of Thaïs with Ettore Bastianini as Athanaël in Naples in 1959
  • The vital bases of singing technique and musicianship, especially including the breathing system and the projection of the voice
  • The importance and value of teaching for Virginia Zeani in her life
  • A final short overview of Virginia Zeani’s “three lives” in Romania, Italy and the United States

Jon Tolansky

Listen to the documentary interview immediately below (length: approx. 52 minutes):


Jon Tolansky

Related Resources


Singers on Singing: The Performer’s Perspective


Singers on Singing :
Angela Gheorghiu

Part of

Singers on Singing: Great Artists in Conversation