OP2602. MARIA DI ROHAN (Donizetti), Live Performance, 24 March, 1962, Napoli, w.Previtali Cond. San Carlo Opera Ensemble; Virginia Zeani, Enzo Tei, Mario Zanasi, Anna Maria Rota, etc. (E.U.) 2-Myto 00320. 0080143903208
"First performed in 1843, Donizetti's MARIA DI ROHAN is a dark little thriller about the disastrous consequences of political favouritism. The opera is set at the court of Louis XIII at the time of Cardinal Richelieu's ascendancy. In a world where fear dictates continuous subterfuge, Maria, the secretive Countess of Rohan, embarks on a dangerous public flirtation with Riccardo, Count of Chalais, ostensibly to hide the truth about her clandestine marriage to Enrico, Duke of Chevreuse. The King and Cardinal never appear on stage, but their decision to make Louis's favourite Chalais a casualty of their shifting relationship provokes catastrophe when it becomes apparent that Maria's desire for Chalais is genuine, not feigned.
It isn't quite the masterpiece that some have claimed. By withholding the truth about Maria's motives until the end in order to create dramatic tension, Donizetti comes awkwardly close to turning his heroine into a cipher. The score creates an atmosphere of strident anxiety by repeatedly dismantling the conventions of bel canto opera, though the early scenes are unmemorable, and Donizetti doesn't get into his stride until he reaches the terrifying final act."
- Tim Ashley, 9 Nov., 2009
gAn exceptionally beautiful woman with dark, lustrous hair, Romanian-born soprano Virginia Zeani became one of Italy's most-appreciated artists during the 1950s. Initially specializing in lyric/coloratura roles, she moved in the 1970s to more dramatic parts, maintaining nearly all of her vocal allure while adding a dimension of larger-scaled authority. Celebrated most of all for her touching Violetta, she made her career primarily in Europe.
Beginning in the early '80s, however, she moved to the U.S. with her husband, Italo-Russian bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni, to become a faculty member at Indiana University and continued to teach there following his death in 1991.
Zeani, born Zehan, pursued her interest in singing despite parental opposition. Encouraged by an endorsement from her chorus director when she was 12, the girl located a teacher and paid for her own lessons with money earned from church performances and part-time work. By the following year, her family had capitulated and she was able to undertake lessons in earnest from a new instructor. It was not until she became a student of Russian coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkowska (who had sung Violetta at the Metropolitan Opera during the 1909 - 1910 season) that Zeani was prepared to sing in her correct range. After work on Violetta, Mimi, Massenet's Manon, and Gounod's Marguérite, Zeani left Bucharest in 1947 to study with the celebrated Italian tenor Aureliano Pertile in Milan. His response was highly favorable as he informed her that she needed only additional coaching in pronunciation and style. Zeani also sought the counsel of Luigi Ricci in Rome and several of Toscanini's former coaches at La Scala.
By the time of her début at Bologna in 1948, Zeani had been thoroughly prepared. The role, not surprisingly, was Violetta, the signature characterization that would carry her through several other important débuts: London (1953), Vienna (1957), Paris (1957), New York (1966), and Moscow (1969). In 1956, Zeani appeared for the first time at La Scala when her Cleopatra (Handel) appeared together with the Cesare of Rossi Lemeni. Zeani had encountered the bass several times before, beginning with her Milanese student days. On-stage, they had met previously in Florence during Zeani's debut in I Puritani when the soprano replaced Callas at a late hour. When Zeani and Rossi Lemeni connected in GIULIO CESARE, he proposed even before rehearsals were over and marriage followed three months later.
In 1957, Zeani created the role of Blanche in Poulenc's DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES at La Scala. In contrast to her involvement with works of the bel canto composers and later operas derived from the verismo movement, Zeani was keenly interested in contemporary works. In addition to Poulenc's DIALOGUES, she participated in the world premieres of Raffaello de Banfield's ALISA and Barbara Giuranna's MAYERLING. Zeani was assigned roles in notable revivals as well. In 1965, she took the title role in a Neapolitan production of Donizetti's MARIA DI ROHAN, in 1968 portrayed Desdemona in Rossini's OTELLO at Rome and in 1970 sang Verdi's ALZIRA also at Rome. By the 1970s, Zeani began to move to such spinto roles as Aïda, Tosca, Fedora, and Magda Sorel. There, her histrionic mastery and command of style matched the expertise that had made her earlier work in the coloratura repertory so distinctive."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com