The following passages were published in the book “Tributes to a Legendary Soprano”, a compilation of personal reflections on the artistry of Virginia Zeani. The book was presented to the soprano on the occasion of her 85th birthday.
It was Traviata. February, 1965. Montreal, Canada. You were just so ravishingly beautiful. That would have been enough. But, unbelievably, we the audience were to be blessed with your equally exquisite voice. I can still feel the throb of your heart in that perfect vibrato. You enveloped us in your warm, liquid, even tone and drew us in to experience your joy and your heartbreak. Indescribable really. It’s as if it were yesterday. Your Violetta is still the most beautiful I have ever seen or heard.
Teresa Stratas, Soprano
Great sopranos should be neither solely great singers nor solely great actresses. Great sopranos should be great singing actresses and in Virginia Zeani I believe we have one of the greatest of this century.
Steven Smith, Canada
Only rarely in a lifetime does one discover a voice with such personality that it lives and exists in the mind beyond a mere recording or performance. It haunts the listener to such an extent that no other singer will do. Virginia Zeani has such a voice. Who else has the warmth and humanity of Zeani? Such colour, vibrancy and expression? Listening to Zeani now is like hearing a person whose whole being exists to communicate story and emotion through music in the most natural and sincere way imaginable. In short, Zeani has an unforgettable voice.
James Mayhew, United Kingdom
We can never forget the extraordinary thrill of hearing you for the first time in the fifties – 1957 if memory serves. Your Lucia, your Violetta, your Donna Elvira are engraved in our hearts. You have no idea the profound impression you made on us. We had never heard in the flesh a bel canto soprano so opulent, so lush, and so velvety. A voice with a great technique, an incredible extension and full of emotion.
Dame Joan Sutherland & Maestro Richard Bonynge
The beauty and artistry of Virginia Zeani are legendary and in our world of easy personality, her humanity, kindness and modesty are always talked about and revered by her colleagues and friends alike and her legacy is incomparable.
Nelly Miricioiu, Soprano
Extraordinary. It’s an over-used word in our superlative-infatuated age, but its true meaning describes in a single word something that is truly exceptional, rare, even phenomenal. Extraordinary is the word that describes Virginia Zeani. She is extraordinary in beauty, talent, and spirit.
Leslie M. Ritch, United States of America
As a life-long opera lover, I feel that the most important qualities that a great singer must possess are an individual color, expression, and vivid use of the text. I know of no other artist who possesses (and shared) all of these gifts to such a high degree as the great and unique Virginia Zeani.
Ken Benson, United States of America
Of all the many fine singers I have heard, Virginia Zeani is without doubt the one I would most wish to hear again.
Yvonne Fuller, United Kingdom
Virginia Zeani was one of the most important sopranos in the world of opera. I had the great pleasure of making music with her on several occasions in Italy and Canada. She always gave me the greatest pleasure and I was proud to be included in the circle of friends of both herself and her illustrious husband Nicola Rossi Lemeni.
Zubin Mehta, Conductor
My generation and I adored Virginia Zeani. She was our idol, and for us developing artists she was a dream living in our young hearts.
Eugenia Moldoveanu, Soprano
Today, a splendid technique and a good voice, are not enough to guarantee a successful career. So much more is needed and Virginia has a unique grasp of those elusive, intangible qualities and it’s from her generosity alone, that such remarkable and rare attributes are being shared and given with such total freedom to young students from all around the world. Who could not love this woman, not just for the superb standard of artistry she has displayed in her own singing career, but for making sure that those standards are secure for us all in the future.
Roger Beaumont, New Zealand
Virginia Zeani is a beacon to the generations who follow her, not only lighting the way for us to become better singers and musicians, but showing us, by advice and example, how to be better people. Our love for her is profound. She is a true original, a true artist and an immensely loving mentor to so many. She has changed our world.
Mark Nicolson, Tenor
A concert review of one of her last performances, in New Jersey in 1981, by Robert Connelly for Opera magazine:
“Virginia Zeani flew in from the University of Indiana, where she and her husband are currently teaching, for a rare United States appearance. A major artist, too little known outside Italy, Madame Zeani is gifted with great personal beauty, a ravishing tone quality and the virtually extinct ability to stir an audience to a frenzy. The voice has aged well, the coloratura notes of yesterday having been replaced by a voluptuous lower register, making her an ideal interpreter of the late romantic Verismo repertory. Now that most of her contemporaries from the 1950s have disappeared from the scene, her artistry seems more precious than ever. Her singing of arias from Aida, Mefistofele and Manon Lescaut, with a judicious, yet exciting use of chest tone, galvanised the audience.”
MOST IMPORTANT HONORS AND AWARDS
bestowed upon VIRGINIA ZEANI during her performing career
1950 GOLD MEDAL FOR ARTISTIC MERIT, EGYPT presented by King Farouk
1961 COMMENDATORE DELLA REPUBLICA ITALIANA
1962 IL SAGITTARIO D’ORO International Prize for arts, music and cinema
1963 PREMIO LUIGI ILLICA, Castell Arquato
1963 GOLD MEDAL, OPERA BARCELONA
1964 GOLD MEDAL, ROMA CAMPIDOGLIO For the best singer in Rome, with Corelli
1965 PREMIO NAZIONALE DIAPASON D’ORO given only twice in thirty years to Zeani and Del Monaca
1967 MASCHERE D’ARGENTO given to the best artists in opera and cinema
1969 GLI ALBERGATORI ROMANI In gratitude from the Hoteliers of Rome
1970 MASCHERE D’ARGENTO for the finest opera and cinema artists
1971 TIBERIAN ACADEMY MEMBERSHIP
1972 IL CONFALONE D’ORO Capri
1973 LA VELCA D’ORO for the most popular performer
1973 GOLD MEDAL OF ITALIAN AGMA given to the 25 greatest performers with careers of at least 25 years and given only once after World War II
1974 MASCHERE D’ARGENTO for the finest opera and cinema artists
1975 PREMIO VERDI for over 500 performances in La Traviata
1982 VERDI PRIZE for interpretations of Verdi operas
1982 IL SAGITTARIO D’ORO international prize for arts, music and cinema
1992 PUCCINI PRIZE for the best female interpreters of opera
1998 GOLD MEDAL for 50 years’ career, Italy, Vercelli
2000 COMANDOR OF ROMANIA for lifetime achievement from the President of the Romanian Republic Professor Constantinescu
2011 “NIHIL SINE DEO” award from King Michael of Romania
Virginia Zeani has been a Professor of Voice in the INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MUSIC from 1980 til 2004 and was named Distinguished Professor in 1994.
Three times she was nominated Doctor Honoris Causa, one time in Bucarest, and two times from two different universities of Cluj ( Romania ).