If studio recordings were all we had to rely on, the sound of Virginia Zeani’s voice might fade from memory. Only a few were made during her 35-year career as one of the most admired sopranos in opera.
But her resourceful fans preserved her voice in video and audio clips — many of them pirated — that they’re sharing with others on the Internet. YouTube alone offers about 250 Zeani posts.
The Venetian Arts Society, a Fort Lauderdale-based membership organization that brings together artists and arts enthusiasts in salon-like settings, is collecting these clips, along with contemporary footage of interviews and commentary, for a planned documentary film.
The cameras will roll again Thursday at The Society of the Four Arts’ Dixon Education Building, when the Four Arts and the Venetian Arts Society will present a tribute to Zeani. The singer lives, and continues to teach, in suburban West Palm Beach.
“The real point of this film is that it shows how ironic it is that the same technology — recording — that inhibited her stardom in the 1950s and 1960s has come back through the Internet and YouTube to immortalize her,” said William Riddle, president of the Venetian Arts Society.
La Traviata her signature opera
The presentation will feature footage of Zeani performing arias from La Traviata — her signature opera — Rigolettoand Tosca, as well as audio clips and still photos. Zeani will attend, along with presenters Mario Hamlet-Metz, an opera historian; Ariane Csonka Comstock, the Four Arts’ longtime opera instructor; Rob Davis, of Classical South Florida radio; and Four Arts President Ervin Duggan.
The event is expected to be the most thorough compilation of clips and information about the singer ever presented in a public forum, Four Arts spokeswoman Katie Edwards said.
Zeani said she was surprised and pleased by the tribute and the planned film, especially since the Romanian-born singer is better known in Europe than in the United States. She sang 28 roles at La Scala and performed nearly 650 times at the celebrated Italian venue.
“I never had publicity,” she said. “I didn’t like publicity, until now. At the last moment, I have accepted it. I am 88. I have accepted so that when I die, people will remember me.”