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La più grande Violetta Valéry

by: mihai-cosmaNo. 127 13 Iunie 2011

One of the most famous movies where classical music has a huge impact on a person is Pretty Woman (with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts), when Edward invites Vivian to the Opera, to see La traviata. The effect is overwhelming, due to both music and subject.

I often think of the magnetism of this score, valid in Verdi’s time but today too, due to the talent of many generations of performers, some of them strongly connected with this particular opera title. Such a personality, frequently identified with Violetta, is Virginia Zeani, the soprano who left from the village Solovăstru (Mureș county) to climb the paths of glory to the highest peaks: performances at Teatro alla Scala, Metropolitan, Rome, Paris, London, Moscow etc., recordings and presences in media, all together with the best singers of the world, among them Tagliavini, Gigli, Corelli, Bergonzi, Gedda, Kraus, Tito Gobbi and many, many others.

La più grande Violetta Valéry
Virginia Zeani, la lansarea volumului de amintiri

If some performers may count several hundred operatic performances in their career, Virginia Zeani entered the book of records by the incredible number of La traviata performances, she being Violetta 648 times!!! Sung not in an ordinary manner but at the best, so even today, when Verdi’s masterpiece has hundreds of records, the one with Virginia Zeani stays as a fundamental point. Another motif of joy is that the CD is entirely Romanian, with Nicolae Herlea, Ion Buzea and conductor Jean Bobescu.

I had the honor of meeting Virginia Zeani in person in the US, where she retired from the stage to be a professor at the biggest Music School, the one of Indiana University in Bloomington. Then, in 2003, she accepted to be the guest of honor in a production made by the “Darclée” Academic Operatic Company led by Mariana Nicolesco and consisting of students from the Bucharest Conservatory. Their performed La traviata at Central College Pella Iowa, in honor of Mrs. Zeani, celebrating the 150th anniversary of La Traviata’s world premiere and the 150th anniversary of the College. On the occasion, Mrs. Zeani has the goodwill to have a master class for the Romanian young performers, showing them some secrets that deeply impressed the students.

Since those times Virginia Zeani was talking with nostalgia about her dream to visit Romania some day, the country she left when she was even younger than her students, in order to study singing in Italy with Aureliano Pertile, after at home she worked with a pupil of the legendary soprano Lidia Lipkovska. Since that moment fate offered her a spectacular career, probably the highest of a Romanian, with success, fame, 60 new roles, world premieres, recordings, tours, stage presence with all major operatic stars, and later the role of professor emeritus of a large number of students.

She visited Romania few years ago, when she received a decoration from the president and when she was celebrated as Doctor honoris causa at the Bucharest Conservatory. One goal was left for another time: the wish to present a book for the Romanian public, written in her mother tongue.

And her wish came true recently, when she visited Romania again, at the invitation of the Royal household. His Majesty King Michael of Romania offered her the Royal medal “Nihil sine Deo”, in an emotional ceremony when the great artist spoke about her patriotism and her respect and admiration for King Michael.

Her first encounter with the public was via radio waves, in a show produced by Luminița Arvunescu for Radio România Muzical, when she was joined by Eugenia Moldoveanu, Sever Voinescu and Cristina Necula (New York journalist highly connected with today’s top stars of the opera).

La più grande Violetta Valéry
Virginia Zeani în rolul Violettei Valery din opera La traviata

Next followed the launch of the volume “Canta che ti passa” (Ed. Galaxia Gutenberg), presented as a dialogue with Sever Voinescu. The event took place at the Bucharest National Opera House, preceding a honorary performance of Evgheni Oneghin, dedicated to the great soprano. The ceremony, which was supposed to last less than an hour, prolonged for three hours, due to the huge number of operagoers willing to get close to the legendary guest and to have a signature on the book.

Virginia Zeani was greeted with love in several cities, on a tour organized by Virgil Bercea, catholic bishop of Oradea. She visited also her birthplace, went to her parents’ graves, participated to honorary concerts, she listened young singers, she presented the volume to the public of Transylvania.

While in Cluj she received the title of Doctor honoris causa of “Babeș-Bolyai” University, as a token of appreciation of the academic world for the stage and pedagogic achievements. Now, at 85, she remains equally charming and vivid, and has in plan a new visit to Romania, for master class, for a new book and for many other ideas!
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