Zeani, Virginia

Romanian-Italian soprano, b. 1925

Biographical notes:

She was born Virginia Zehan in Solovastru and studied literature and philosophy at the University of Bukarest while training her voice with Lucia Anghel and Lydia Lipkowska . After moving to Italy she received vocal tuition by Aureliano Pertile. She made her early debut in 1948 as Violetta (!) at the Teatro Duse Bologna, which turned to be a triumph for the young singer. Violetta became the role she was closely associated with and she sang it hundreds of times throughout her career! For more than ten years she dedicated herself to those roles generically referred to as “coloratura” roles, singing Lucia, Elvira, Amina and Gilda. She soon added Norina, Rosina and Fiorilla (among others). In 1956 Virginia made her debut as Cleopatra in Händel’s Giulio Cesare at La Scala. At the premiere of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites she created the role of Blanche. Her superb technique allowed her to excel in singing the four roles (Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia, Siebel) in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. The artist eventually included more lyric-dramatic roles to her repertoire performing Aida, Desdemona, Tosca, Magda Sorel in Menotti’s The Consul, Fedora, Cio-Cio-San, Manon Lescaut, Elsa and Senta in Italian, Adriana Lecouvreur, Thaïs, Marguerite etc. An innovative artist she participated in many revivals of Belcanto operas (for instance Maria di Rohan, Le Comte Ory, Zelmira, Rossini’s Otello, Alzira).  Virginia sang at the Bolshoi Theatre, Barcelona, at the Arena di Verona, Monte Carlo, Paris, St. Petersburg, Mexico City, Belgrad, Houston, Budapest, Philadelphia, the Met and at Vienna (Volksoper and Staatsoper). She appeared in Dublin many times and is still remembered there with great fondness. Married to the bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni she became a sought-after tutor at the Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Her trademark - Violetta



“Virginia Zeani was immediately noted for her rare ability to bring precise meaning to her music, achieving that rare synthesis of bel canto and expression which drew praise for her interpretations, both for their dramatic sensivity and intimacy and for her radiant singing. Beneath all this, however, there was something in Zeani’s timbre which went straight to the heart: an aura of veiled melancholy, a nobly controlled passion which blended exquisitely with the bewitching color of her voice, dusky in the center and radiant at the top. Hers was a voice of fascinating feminity, capable of expressing both tenderness and sensuality, both elegy and tragedy.”

Davide Annachini


Virginia Zeani and Alfredo Kraus in “La Traviata” (1960)


Recordings: (selection)

Verdi - La Traviata (Questa 1956/Raimondi, Savarese)


Pizzetti - Assassinio nella Cattedrale (Pizzetti 1958/Rossi-Lemeni, Rota, Montarsolo)


Rossini - Otello (Previtali 1960/Lazzari, Baratti, Handt, Reynolds)


Mascagni - Il Piccolo Marat (De Fabritiis 1961/Rossi-Lemeni, Borsò, Betner)


Mascagni - Il Piccolo Marat (Ziino 1962/Rossi-Lemeni, Gismondo, Bazzani)

Fonit Cetra

Donizetti - Maria di Rohan (Previtali 1962/Rota, Tei, Zanasi)


Rossini - Zelmira (Franci 1965/Limarilli, Washington, Rota)


De Banfield - Alissa (Rivoli 1965/Paskalis, Scharley)


Verdi - Alzira (Capuana 1967/MacNeil, Cava, Cecchele)


Verdi - La Traviata (Bobescu 1968/Buzea, Herlea)

World of the Opera

Verdi - Aida (Previtali 1969/Cecchele, Bumry, Ghiuselev)


Massenet - Werther (Votto 1971/Kraus, Trimarchi, Mariconda, Basiola)


Mercadante - Elisa e Claudio (Rapalo 1971/Lazzari, Fioroni, Trama, Trimarchi, Corboni)


Puccini - Tosca (Trailescu 1977/Fanateanu, Herlea)

World of the Opera

Recital Vol. 1 (Arias by Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Lehár)


Recital Vol. 2 (Arias by Donizetti, Verdi, Boito, Massenet, Puccini, Cilea)


Recital (also Tassinari, Tagliavini, Rossi-Lemeni)

Fonit Cetra

Recital (Arias by Puccini /+ Graziella Sciutti)

Decca UK

Great Soprano Cabalettas



As Medea


As Aida


As Cio-Cio-San


Virginia Zeani belongs to the singers who were almost ignored by the multi-national recording industry. She herself preferred her live recordings to those of the studio. This might be partly the reason why she is to be found on but a few commercial recordings. Fortunately, Bongiovanni has released two superb CDs (live performances).

Hers is a voice of much flexibility, emitted with remarkable technical competence, extending from warm chest notes to high E. She sings with impeccable phrasing,  with great intensity and dramatic conviction.


In the title role of “Manon Lescaut”


As Olympia

My favorite recordings:

- Caro nome (Gilda in Rigoletto / Verdi / RAI 1955 live)

- O rendetemi la speme...Qui la voce (Elvira in I Puritani / Bellini / RAI 1957 live)

- Come sen va contento with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore / Donizetti / RAI 1958 live)

- Cupa fatal mestizia (Title role in Maria di Rohan / Donizetti / RAI 1962 live)

- Poveri fiori (Title role in Adriana Lecouvreur / Cilea / RAI 1963 live)

 Ah! Je suis seule (Title role in Thais  / Massenet / RAI 1963 live)

- Teneste la promessa (Violetta in La Traviata / Verdi / RAI 1965 live)

- Pace mio Dio (Leonora in La Forza del Destino / Verdi / RAI 1965 live)




One of Virginia Zeani’s teachers, Lydia Lipkowska, as Rosina (1880 - 1955)


Many warmest thanks to Roger Beaumont