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Virginia Zeani [Source: Wikipedia]
05 Mar 2013

An Interview with Virginia Zeani

Palm Beach audiences are famous for their glamour, but in recent years a special star has sparkled amid the jewels, sequins, feathers and furs (whatever the weather).

An Interview with Virginia Zeani

By Ariane Csonka

Above: Virginia Zeani [Source: Wikipedia]


Legendary for her voice and her startling beauty, Virginia Zeani has the unmistakable presence of a great diva. Eighty-six years have not diminished the brilliance of those Elizabeth Taylor eyes, the erect posture, the dark music of that Romanian accent.

Post-performances of the Palm Beach Opera, there is always the whispered question, “What did Zeani think?” A great teacher after her illustrious career, she is analytical and was happy to share her impressions of the recent PBO production of La Cenerentola, after admitting she might be prejudiced in favor of the mezzo-soprano who sang the title role, Viveca Genaux, who is one of many Zeani students now starring on international stages. Here are some of Zeani’s observations:

Cenerentola is an opera that can be staged quite successfully in two very different ways — one tender and romantic, one stylized and comedic. This production, from Erhard Rom of the Minnesota Opera, was the latter, and quite charmingly done. The collaboration of conductor Will Crutchfield and director Mario Corradi followed that theme with lively tempi and lots of humor, without making it a total “pochade”, or joke. Crutchfield’s background and thorough preparation always informs his musicality.

Genaux_Steiner.gifViveca Genaux [Photo by Christian Steiner]

“I was very happy with Viveca (Genaux), whose technical security enabled her to sing all three consecutive performances of this demanding role with beautiful, creamy tone. She has very correct agility for the coloratura, and a good figure as well — I liked that she was playful and sang with personality. This is a quality I find lacking in many modern singers. Sometimes I am really shocked at the ugly faces they make.

“On the other hand, the so-called ‘ugly’ sisters — Alexandra Batsios as Clorinda and Shirin Eskandani as Tisbe — were very good vocally, and ugly in the way Rossini intended, mean and silly of character.

“Rene Barbera lacks the physical stature of the ideal Ramiro (Prince Charming) but made up for it with confidence, secure high notes and nimble fioritura. Bruno Taddia as a clown-wigged Dandini was a very amusing actor, choosing to emphasize wit over vocal emission. Bruno Pratico was an impressive Don Magnifico, and Matthew Burns made some nice magic as Alidoro.

“Overall, I enjoy the Palm Beach Opera productions. They are traditional, usually as the composer desired, they find excellent artists and understand how to please their audience.”

When asked to expound on the challenges of bel canto singing, Mme. Zeani added some interesting thoughts.

“Of course one has to work on the agility, the purity of intonation, the ‘tricks’ of trills, roulades, staccato, attack. But singers today often forget what was, for me, most important; the expression, the phrasing, the emotion. I always worked hardest on coloring the tone while keeping the legato. Even bel canto is more than just beautiful tone — the beauty of expression must be there, not only in the voice but in the face, the body, even the eyes.”

Ariane Csonka

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