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Virgnia Zeani, large Romanian lyric soprano

By May 22, 2023May 29th, 2023No Comments

Today, I am posting Virginia Zeani. She was a very famous and popular soprano. I am going to ask you to listen closely to her. She has a beautiful voice but she doesn’t use it well. She pushes, and you can hear something of a wobble beginning. When she retired, she went to Florida to teach. Her last student in Florida was Nadine Sierra. I’m going to post Pretty Yende and Sierra singing together. See if you can tell what Zeani taught Sierra. Are she and Yende in tune?

Donizetti, I Puritani, “Qui la voce sua suave”

Qui la voce sua soave
mi chiamava…e poi sparì.
Qui giurava esser fedele,
qui il giurava,
E poi crudele, mi fuggì!
Ah, mai più qui assorti insieme
nella gioia dei sospir.
Ah, rendetemi la speme,
o lasciate, lasciatemi morir.

Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna!
Tutto tace intorno intorno;
finchè spunti in cielo il giorno,
vien, ti posa sul mio cor!
Deh!, t’affretta, o Arturo mio,
riedi, o caro, alla tua Elvira:
essa piange e ti sospira,
vien, o caro, all’amore, ecc.

Donizetti, I Puritani, “He his soft voice”

Here his soft voice
called me…and then vanished.
here he swore to be faithful,
this he was vowing,
and then cruelly fled from me!
Oh! No longer to be joined together
in the joy of sighing.
Oh, return my hope
or let me die.

Come, beloved, the moon is in the sky!
everything is quiet around us;
until day breaks in the sky,
come and alight upon my heart!
Hurry up, oh, my Arthur,
return, my dear, to your Elvira:
she cries and sighs for you,
come, my dear, to love…

Puccini, La Rondine, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta”

Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Potè indovinar?
Il suo segreto come mai
Come mai fini

Ahimè! un giorno uno studente
In bocca la baciò
E fu quel bacio
Fu la passione!
Folle amore!
Folle ebbrezza!
Chi la sottil carezza
D’un bacio così ardente
Mai ridir potrà?

Ah! mio sogno!
Ah! mia vita!

Che importa la ricchezza
Se alfine è rifiorita
La felicità!
O sogno d’or
Poter amar così!

Puccini, La Rondine, “Doretta’s glorious dream”

Who could bring to light
Doretta’s glorious dream?
Why has its secret
been disclosed?

Alas! One day a student
kissed her mouth
and that kiss
was a revelation:
It was passion!
Insane love!
Sensual orgy!
The soft caress
of a kiss so ardent,
who will ever be able to express that?

Ah! My dream!
Ah! My life!

What does wealth matter
when at last flourishes
blissful happiness?
Oh golden dream
to be able to love like that!

Bellini, Norma, “Mira, o Norma… Sì, fino all’ore estreme…”

Mira, o Norma: ai tuoi ginocchi
Questi cari tuoi pargoletti!
Ah! Pietade di lor ti tocchi,
Se non hai di te pietà!

Ah! Perché, perché la mia costanza
Vuoi scemar con molli affetti?
Più lusinghe, ah, più speranza
Presso a morte un cor non ha!

Mira questi cari pargoletti,
Questi cari, ah… Li vedi, ah!

Ah! Perchè, ah! Perchè la vuoi scemar?

[Adalgisa e Norma:]
Mira, o Norma, a’ tuoi ginocchi,
(Ah! Perché, perché la mia costanza)
questi cari tuoi pargoletti,
(Vuoi scemar con molli affetti?)
Ah! Pietade di lor ti tocchi,
(Più lusinghe, ah, più speranza)
Se non hai di te pieta!
(Presso a morte un cor non ha!)

Cedi! Deh, cedi!

Ah! Lasciami! Ei t’ama.

Ei già sen pente.

E tu?

L’amai. Quest’anima
Sol l’amistade or sente.

O giovinetta! E vuoi?

Renderti i dritti tuoi,
O teco al cielo agli uomini
Giuro celarmi ognor.

Sì. Hai vinto. Abbracciami!
Trovo un’amica, amor…

[Norma ed Adalgisa:]
Sì, fino all’ore estreme
Compagna tua m’avrai.
Per ricovrarci insieme
Ampia è la terra assai.

Teco, del fato all’onte
(Teco, del fato all’onte)
Ferma opporrò la fronte,
(Ferma opporrò la fronte)
Finchè il tuo core (Finchè il tuo core)
a battere (a battere)
Io senta sul mio cor (Io senta sul mio cor)

Battere lo senta sul mio cuor, sì!

Bellini, Norma, “Look, oh Norma… Yes, Until the Final Hours…”

Look, oh Norma: at your knees
There are these, your beloved children!
Ah! May pity for them touch your heart,
If you don’t have pity for yourself!

Ah! Why, why do you want to weaken
My resolve, with tender affection?
Kind illusions, ah, any hope
Can’t be had by a heart that is almost dead!

Look at these beloved children,
These darling ones, ah… See them, ah!

Ah! Why, ah! Why do you want to weaken it?

[Adalgisa and Norma:]
Look, oh Norma: at your knees
(Ah! Why, why do you want to weaken)
There are these, your beloved children!
(My resolve, with tender affection?)
Ah! May pity for them touch your heart,
(Kind illusions, ah, any hope)
If you don’t have pity for yourself!
(Can’t be had by a heart that is almost dead!)

Give up! Oh, give up!

Ah! Let me be! He loves you…

He’s regretting it already…

And you?

I loved him. This soul
Only feels friendship, now.

Oh, young girl! And what do you want…?

To give you back your rights,
Or with you, from both Heaven and men,
I swear that I’ll hide forever more.

Yes. You’ve won. Hold me!
I find a friend, love…

[Norma and Adalgisa;]
Yes, until the final hours
You’ll have me as your companion!
To shelter the both of us
The earth is wide enough…

With you, before the trials of fate,
(With you, before the trials of fate)
Steadfast, I will hold my head high,
(Steadfast, I will hold my head high)
As long as I feel (As long as I feel)
Your heart beating (Your heart beating)
Over my own heart (Over my own heart)

Beating over my own heart, yes!

Virginia Zeani
October 21, 1925 – March 20, 2023

Virginia Zehan was born on Oct. 21, 1925, in Solovastru, a Transylvanian village in central Romania. She changed her surname in her early 20s when she emigrated to Milan after being told that “Zeani” would be easier for Italians to pronounce. Her parents, Dumitru and Vesselina Zehan, owned a hardscrabble farm and moved to Bucharest, the Romanian capital, in search of better incomes when Virginia was 8.

Music was among her earliest memories. She remembered singing as a toddler in Solovastru while going with her mother to fetch water from a stream for cooking. “Every Sunday, Gypsy people would gather in our village to play their music, and the villagers would begin dancing,” she said in her memoir.

When she was 9, she was invited by a cousin to her first opera: Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” in Bucharest. She was so smitten that she vowed to her parents that she would become an opera singer. She enrolled in her school choir and, with the help of a benefactor, took voice lessons as a teenager with Lucia Anghel, a former mezzo-soprano who told Virginia that she was also a mezzo.

During World War II, Bucharest suffered bombardment and occupation by the Nazis, who imprisoned and executed some of Virginia’s close friends and their relatives. She herself narrowly escaped potential rape and murder by jumping from a back window when soldiers invaded her family’s home.

One stroke of luck during the war was being accepted as a student by Lydia Lipkowska, a famed Ukrainian soprano, who was stranded in Bucharest. Ms. Lipkowska convinced Virginia that she was a soprano. “I had no high notes at all at that point in my life,” Ms. Zeani recalled, “but after she accepted me and I worked with her for three months I had an incredible range.”

She went to Italy in 1947 and continued her vocal studies in Milan, where she joined a bumper crop of future opera stars, including Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe di Stefano and Franco Corelli.

On May 16, 1948, at the age of 22, Ms. Zeani made her debut at Bologna’s Teatro Duse as Violetta in “La Traviata” when Margherita Carosio, the scheduled soprano, fell ill. To get the role, Ms. Zeani lied to the local opera impresario, asserting that she had sung Violetta before. She then fashioned her own gown for the part out of curtain fabric bought at a street market.

Critics were impressed by Ms. Zeani’s ability to convey her character’s losing struggle with tuberculosis while hitting all of Verdi’s notes. She herself had earlier dealt with a chronic lung ailment, and she used that experience to aid her performance. “Ironically, my bronchitis helped me to work out a breathing system for the forte moments in the opera, consistent with Violetta’s medical condition,” she explained.

She added Vincenzo Bellini to her repertoire when she replaced Maria Callas in the role of Elvira in “I Puritani” in Florence in 1952.

It was during that performance that she met her future husband, the Italian bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who sang the role of Elvira’s uncle, Giorgio Valton. They married in 1957 and had one child, Alessandro. Mr. Rossi-Lemeni died in 1991.

One of Ms. Zeani’s career highlights was singing the lead role of Blanche in the première of Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at La Scala in 1957. Mr. Poulenc chose Ms. Zeani after hearing her sing in “La Traviata” in Paris the previous year.

“Poulenc convinced me to do the part of Blanche, score unseen,” she recalled. “I was not at first enthusiastic.” The work would be recognized as one of the great 20th-century operas.

Another of Ms. Zeani’s hallmarks was her durability. “In my career I only canceled two performances,” she said in a 2015 interview with the opera website Gramilano on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

In 1966, at 41, Ms. Zeani made her belated debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Violetta, and gave one more performance a few days later. Those were her only performances in a Met production.

Her performances, especially in Italy, were warmly received. Her acting in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” in a 1969 Rome Opera performance was singled out for praise by Opera magazine: “Zeani, a most musical and feminine interpreter of Manon, brought out all the part’s desperate passion throughout the opera with much lyrical ardor and touching expressiveness.”

Ms. Zeani’s last opera performance was as Mother Marie in “Dialogues of the Carmelites” on Nov. 3, 1982, at the San Francisco Opera. Two years earlier, she and her husband had accepted teaching posts at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

Ms. Zeani continued to teach there until 2004, when she retired to West Palm Beach. She was considered one of the leading singing teachers in the country, and a partial list of her more notable former students included the sopranos Angela Brown, Elina Garanca, Sylvia McNair and Marilyn Mims.