Obituary: Romanian Soprano Virginia Zeani Passes at 97

By David Salazar

Legendary Romanian soprano Virginia Zeani passed away on March 20, 2023. She was 97.

The soprano was born in Solovastru and started singing at 13 with Lucia Anghel and Lydia Lipkowska. Following World War II, Zeani emigrated to Italy where she continued her vocal studies in Milan under conductor Antonio Narducci and tenor Aureliano Pertile.

She made her professional debut in 1948 at the Teatro Duse in “La Traviata,” stepping in for soprano Margherita Carosio. That would be followed up by performances in Egypt, Geneva, Florence, and eventually, La Scala in 1956.

In sum, she sang 69 roles throughout her career by such composers as Puccini, Verdi, Giordano, Offenbach, Rossini, Donizetti, and Poulenc, among others. She was renowned her for interpretation of Violetta in “La Traviata,” a role that she sang 648 times throughout her career.

She also starred in world premieres of such operas as “Dialogues des Carmélites,” “L’avventuriero,” and “Alissa,” among others.

Zeani’s final opera performances took place in 1982 in a production of “Dialogues des Carmélites” at the San Francisco Opera.

Later in her career, she turned to teaching, taking on such students as Angela Brown, Nicole Chevalier, Vivica Genaux, Sylvia McNair, Ailyn Pérez, and Elizabeth Futral, among others.

In 1965 she was made Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and was also made a Knight of the Order of the Star of Romania in 2016.

Angela Gheorghiu paid tribute to the legendary soprano stating, “The world lost one of the most glorious artists today, a beautiful soul, a divine woman and one of my closest friends, Virginia Zeani , my “Mami Virginia” as I used to always call her 💔 Virginia Zeani was one of the most celebrated sopranos of her generation, a true legend, born in Romania A model of humanity, honesty and dignity, with humor and candor like no other, an example for future generations. My sincere condolences to her son, Alessandro Rossi-Lemeni and to her family! Rest in peace, Mami Virginia, I will always carry you in my heart ❤️ Your little girl, your friend forever, Angela”