Zeani: "I first sung Magda at 46"
Thoughts on La Rondine from Mrs Zeani. And some very nice words from Roberto on how she influenced him in a certain moment of his life.
All the time during our dialogue Mrs Zeani expressed one regret. That she hasn’t taken more care of her image as artist that she hasn’t made more recordings. And she almost persuaded me. But I talked to Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, both of them stating to have met and cherished the soprano Vigrinia Zeani listening to her voice long before meeting her in person. If for many of us life is not a game of chess that allows changes, in the end the most interesting parts come first. Speaking of Mrs Zeani, live recordings proved to be good enough to promote her glory after she retired.
Roberto Alagna: I have beautiful memories related to Virginia Zeani. I knew her though her records.
LA: You were already married to Angela Gheorghiu.
RA: I’ve always loved music. I have a large collection of LPs and CDs so I knew about her long before. She stayed with us in London for a few days. And we had the chance to know each other better.
LA: She’s the gentlest person on earth.
RA: Yes, she’s very modest but at the same time she has the “sacred fire” in her eyes. When I was in London I was writing a book about myself, a sort of story of my family.
LA: The one you published in France?
RA: Yes. And she was reading what I was writing. She was the first person to read the book.
LA: Now she’s the one writing a book of dialogues, in cooperation with Sever Voinescu. You should be the first one to read it. You owe her this.
RA: It’s true. But I was glad because when she was reading, I could see the reaction in her eyes. And this helped me a lot. Virginia is like family to me. She’s not an inapproachable diva. On the contrary, when we met it was like we had known each other forever.
LA: Despite the fact that she was a great artist, a true diva of the opera.
RA: I admire her a lot. I admire the singers that have the courage to do the impossible.
LA: She did that.
RA: Yes, she did. She found the energy to sing so many operas. She did it at the highest level and with an amazing voice. She’s not only a great artist but also a vocal phenomenon, such as Maria Callas, Nicolai Gedda. There are only a few phenomenal singers and she’s part of them.
You listened to the thoughts of the star tenor Roberto Alagna about the artistic destiny and the person that is Virginia Zeani. And maybe it’s not coincidence that she was close to him in some important moments of his life. Virginia Zeani is the artist that has accompanied us for the past five nights thought the labyrinth of Puccini’s work. Today she’s talking about the part of Magda from La Rondine.
Virginia Zeani: The part of Magda in La Rondine is a sort of compromise between Violetta and Musetta, a little bit comic, a little bit tragic. But the end is tragic and not how somebody would have foresaw according to Puccini’s initial score. The character is funny in the beginning and sad in the end, giving up Rugero whom she had fell in love with. I think there should be at least 20 years between them. Rugero was 21 and she must have had 42. I always thought of the age of the characters I brought to life. And I was trying to have the proper voice and appearance.
LA: How old were you when you first sung the part of Magda?
VZ: It was the year my father died in a car accident, 1971. Each summer my mother and father were visiting their friends in Romania. For them Solovastru was the most important place in the world. Rome came on the second place. They were very connected to Solovastru. I feel closer to it more than to Bucharest, after 61 years. The birth place remains always connected to you. I did La Rondine 10 days after my father’s death. I had to sing it in Luca, close to the birth place of Puccini.
LA: And to be a fashionable character.
VZ: She’s a character in between Traviata and somebody else.
LA: So Mrs Zeani was 46 when she first performed the part of Magda, the main character of a German libretto translated for Puccini by Giuseppe Adami. Her story is tragic, the same as all love stories with Puccini. I commented it with Mrs Zeani. But not as tragic as in La Boheme, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly or Tosca. The two lovers are alive in the end but they separate forever because Magda, the same as a swallow, will return to the previous life style, giving up her chance for happiness.
VZ: It’s very easy to render the character if you have a flexible voice. It’s not vocally dangerous, it’s based on some pianissimos and puccinian influences where forte becomes piano and piano becomes forte. These vocal colors must dominate.
LA: Besides that tragic moment when you first performed the role, did you enjoy singing it?
VZ: Yes. When you go on stage everything disappears, no matter how you feel like because the character is important. I managed to do that and I performed it several times. Not too many times because it was not staged too often. It will be staged next year at the Metropolitan.
LA: With Angela and Roberto.
VZ: I hope I’ll be strong enough to go there to applaud them.
LA: I’m sure you’ve already been invited.
VZ: Sure. They are very nice and gentle people, with me and everybody that appreciates them.
LA: La Rondine seems to me a teamwork opera, more than others we’ve talked about.
VZ: Yes, there are pairs that work together. Just like Mimi and Rodolfo. In the end Magda has to give up Ruggero.
LA: Puccini was asked to write La Rondine by the directors of Karltheater in Vienna in 1913. Puccini was there on the occasion of a new production of his opera The Girl of Golden West that had its world premiere in 1910 at Metropolitan Opera in New York. He liked the story that he was supposed to put on music from the first moment. Only that the war started and it was very difficult to travel to Europe. In 1916 it seemed that La Rondine will never be premiered. Eventually Puccini sells the right to a company from Milan who manages to set the premiere date to March 27th 1917 at Theatre du Casino in Monte Carlo. Was it a triumph? No. Was it something new, exotic, and overwhelming? No. But the music itself is a delight.
Part 3 - coming soon...