Virginia Zeani, one of the very few sopranos Maria Callas was frightened of


Have you noticed how many great singers come from Romania? Virginia Zeani is one of them. She was born Virginia Zehan, on the 21st October 1925, in Solovastru, a village in central Transylvania.

Zeani made her debut when she was 23 as Violetta in Bologna (intended for Margherita Carossio). That role would become her trademark. There is a precious anecdote about her debut in Covent Garden: it was in 1960 and she was a last minute replacement for Joan Sutherland, who became ill. She arrived late in the afternoon and there was hardly time to try on the costume. Before she went on stage, she asked very quickly: ‘Which of the gentlemen is my Alfredo?


In 1952, again at short notice she replaced Maria Callas as Elvira in i Puritani in the Teatro Communale in Florence, conducted by Tullio Serafin.


The soprano sang no less than 69 roles, including many world premieres. In 1957 she created the role of Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites by Poulenc.

Her repertoire ranged from Handel (Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare), via Bellini, Donizetti, Massenet and Gounod to Wagner (Elsa and Senta). With of course the necessary Verdis and Puccinis and as one of her greatest star roles Magda in The Consul by Menotti:



She sang, together with her husband Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in the recording of Pizetti’s Assasinio nella Cattedrale recorded live in Turin shortly after the premiere (La Scala in Milan, March 1958). Absolutely indispensable for the ‘Generazione dell’80’ and verism lover (Stradivarius STR 10067/57).

Virginia Zeani in an aria from the recording:

I myself am completely obsessed with her Tosca, but also her Violetta should not be missed by anyone. Her coloratures in the first act are more than perfect. And then her ‘morbidezza’… Do it for her!



Below her ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Tosca), recorded in 1975, when she was over fifty:


decca zeani

‘Decca’s Most Wanted Recitals’, revealed in 2014 released her recording of Puccini arias. This recording, made in 1958 under the direction of Giuseppe Patané, have – together with a recital by Graziella Sciutti – been released earlier by Decca; but her Donizettis, Bellinis and Verdis from 1956 (conductor: Gianandrea Gavazzeni) had their CD premiere.

A nice anecdote:
Giovanni Battista Meneghini, former husband of Maria Callas, in conversation with Virginia Zeani , “Virginia, I have to tell you, you are one of the very few sopranos my wife is frightened of”


  1. Inderdaad een prachtige stem. Heel goed dat Basia aandacht aan haar besteed. In januari 1963 trad ze op in de Amsterdamse Stadsschouwburg in Lucia di Lammermoor. Haar Edgardo was de jonge Luciano Pavarotti.

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      1. Ik zong toen kinderrollen bij de Nederlandse Opera. Kreeg toen vaak goedkope kaartjes. Helaas heb ik deze voorstelling gemist. In het toenmalige operablad van de Nederlandse Opera stonden prachtige foto’s van de voorstelling. Gelukkig heb ik alles uit die tijd bewaard.

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  2. In 1963 I was on stage as a statist. Pavarotti offerde me a drink every night in the interval, bacause I saved his live leaving the stage at the end of act 2. I was 17 y.o. and it was great performance. All solists were great.

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