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Virginia Zeani and Joan Boytim to be Honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards

posted on 7:06 AM, May 17, 2016
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Virginia Zeani and Joan Boytim will be honored during the 54th NATS National Conference in Chicago this July with the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“We look forward to honoring Virginia and Joan this summer,” says Allen Henderson, NATS Executive Director. “Both have been leaders in vocal training throughout their careers and are passionate about the art of teaching singing and passing on to the next generation a passion for our art form.”

About Virginia Zeani
zeani-new.jpgVirginia Zeani was born Virginia Zehan, in 1925, in Solovastru, a village in central Transylvania, Romania. From an early age she was always singing, at home, at school and in choirs, and at the age of nine she fell in love with opera after seeing a production of Madama Butterfly. At 13, she began taking serious vocal lessons with Lucia Anghel in Bucharest who, because of the richness of her sound, considered her to be a mezzo soprano. Unconvinced, she moved on to study with the famous coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkowska, who swiftly and expertly opened up Zeani’s full range and molded her into a fine lirico leggero soprano. She also coached her in the complete roles of Violetta, Mimi, Marguerite and Massenet’s Manon, which became the calling cards of her early career. In March 1947, she travelled to Milan to work with the legendary veteran tenor Aureliano Pertile. In addition to the great help Pertile gave her, Zeani also learned from Toscanini’s coaches at La Scala.  

In May 1948, an opportunity arose when the soprano Margherita Carosio fell ill and the Teatro Duse in Bologna needed a replacement. So, at the age of 22 and with no previous stage experience, Zeani made her professional debut in what was to become her greatest role, that of Violetta in La Traviata. The performance was so successful that the stunned conductor immediately offered her a tour of 30 more performances. Violetta was a role she would sing more than 600 times around the world during her career. Her partner that evening was tenor Arrigo Pola (Alfredo), the voice teacher of Luciano Pavarotti. In January 1950 she was invited to star in a three-month “tournee,” or season, in Cairo and  Alexandria in Egypt, singing Violetta, Nedda, Michaela and most significantly Adina in L’elisir d’amore opposite the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. She was 24, he was 60.

Soon, her growing reputation led to invitations to many of the major opera houses of Europe, and Violetta was her debut role in Vienna and Paris. In 1953, in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, she undertook a major tour of the British Isles singing the roles of Violetta and Mimi. Having declined their initial invitation because of a prior commitment, she eventually made her debut at La Scala, Milan in 1956, as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. The cast included Franco Corelli and Giulietta Simionato and in the title role the famous bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni with whom she had briefly sung in I Puritani in Florence.  She had only previously seen him on stage dressed as an older man and had not realized he was in his 30s. Within a week, he asked her to marry him and within three weeks she accepted his proposal – they were married in Rome the next spring.

In 1957 came the highly successful world premiere at La Scala of Poulenc’s newly composed opera the Dialogues des Carmelites, in which, chosen especially by Poulenc himself, Zeani sang the leading role of Blanche. Zeani was now in great demand worldwide and regularly sang in most of the European capitals as well as in Russia, South America and South Africa. Despite having appeared in several successful tours of Great Britain, she had yet to appear at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Her debut eventually came in January 1960, again as an emergency replacement but this time for the now justly famous Joan Sutherland. That remarkable performance was broadcast worldwide and has been preserved on disc and posted on YouTube in four parts. Zeani also appeared in Barcelona, Leningrad,  Moscow,  Philadelphia,  Bucharest etc. and debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Violetta in 1966.

In her early career, she achieved considerable success in bel canto roles such as Lucia, Gilda in Rigoletto, Elvira in I Puritani and the title role in Linda di Chamonix, and lighter lyric roles such as Massenet’s Manon and Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust. As her voice matured she gradually turned to more dramatic roles including Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly and Tosca, and verismo operas including Fedora and Adriana Lecouvreur. When she was 40, the conductor Zubin Mehta, with whom she had sung many Violettas, suggested she was now ready to sing Aida and, under his baton, she gave her first performance in Montreal opposite Jon Vickers as Radames.

She sang several of the heavier Verdi roles including Aida, Desdemona, Elisabetta, Alzira and Lina in Stiffelio, as well as two Wagnerian heroines, Elsa in Lohengrin and Senta in The Flying Dutchman. She successfully performed Poulenc’s solo masterpiece for soprano, La Voix Humaine, both in Italian and in the original French, and in 1972 at the Spoleto Festival she enjoyed one of her greatest successes as Magda in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul.

In all, she sang some 69 major roles and only ever cancelled two performances. She sang with many famous colleagues including tenors Beniamino Gigli, Mario Filippeschi, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Carlo Bergonzi, Guy Chauvet, Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus, Gianni Raimondi and Jon Vickers; the young Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo sang several of their debut performances with her; mezzo sopranos Giulietta Simionato, Fedora Barbieri, Shirley Verrett, Lili Chookasian, Grace Bumbry, baritones Gino Bechi. Tito Gobbi, Nicolae Herlea and basses Nicola Rossi Lemeni, Boris Christoff, Cesare Siepi and many others. She also worked with many distinguished conductors including Tullio Serafin, Zubin Mehta and Herbert von Karajan. A warm-voiced singer with stunning looks and an affecting stage presence, she made few commercial recordings, but many of her live performances exist as bootleg recordings and YouTube postings.

Zeani retired from the operatic stage in 1982, but in 1980, together with her husband, Nicola Rossi Lemeni, began to teach singing at the music school in Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Both were later honored as “Distinguished Professors.” After her husband’s death in 1991, she taught at IU for many more years before moving in 2002 to Florida. In 2010, having now taught for 30 years, Classical Singer named her Teacher of the Year. Amongst Zeani’s most famous pupils are Sylvia McNair, Angela Brown, Susan Patterson, Stephen Mark Brown, Elizabeth Futral, Marilyn Mims, Vivica Genaux, Mark Nicolson, Heidi Klassen, James Valenti, Elina Garanca and Ailyn Perez. She has also been a judge in many prestigious vocal competitions most notably those at the Metropolitan Opera. She is the recipient of many major awards including Commendatore of the Italian Republic. In 2010, King Michael of Romania awarded her his highest honor, “The Royal Decoration of Nihil Sine Deo.” 

About Joan Boytim
56063_Boytim_Joan.jpgJoan Frey Boytim had devoted her life to sharing her musical talents and skills while enjoying a brilliant career as a teacher, author, compiler of song anthologies, arranger, clinician and professional performer – as a mezzo, a piano accompanist and a French hornist. Richard Walters, vice president of classical publications at Hal Leonard Corporation, has written that, “Mrs. Boytim has become the most nationally recognized expert in teaching young singers.” She was awarded recognition as a 2007 distinguished alumnus at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) for her accomplishments and her remarkable contributions to aspiring musicians and vocalists, and to the profession of studio voice teaching.

Boytim earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Education degree from IUP in 1955 and 1964, respectively. She was a member of Kappa Delta Pi and Delta Omicron honorary fraternities and the Delta Sigma Epsilon social sorority. She earned Dean’s List honors for eight semesters and was the recipient of the senior award for “Most Professional Promise.”

She also was awarded the Delta Omicron Scholarship Key Award, the Fred Waring Fellowship in 1954, and a Rotary International Fellowship in voice and French horn to the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Munich, Germany during the 1955-56 academic year. She also earned six graduate credits from Western Michigan University in 1962 and 30 doctorate credits in vocal pedagogy, vocal literature and voice from Indiana University in Bloomington during the summers of 1967, 1970 and 1971.

In 1956, Boytim opened her own studio as a private voice teacher. She has taught well over 1,000 teenagers and community adults over the years. In addition to teaching privately, she also taught junior-high general music for three years, senior-high choral music for six years, and was a part-time instrumental instructor for three years in the Carlisle Area School District in Pennsylvania. She served four years as an adjunct voice professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She currently teaches 20 teenagers and 12 adults in her Carlisle studio and presents her students in winter and spring recitals and other community programs.

In 1990, she began compiling vocal anthologies for G. Schirmer and Hal Leonard Corporation, the largest musical publisher in the world. By the end of 2016, there will be 60 different vocal anthologies in print. Her book, The Private Voice Studio Handbook – a Guide to All Aspects of Teaching, was published in 2003 and revised in 2014. To date, more than one million copies of her publications have been sold. She has presented Showcase Presentations of her newest volumes at the NATS National Conferences for Hal Leonard Corporation.

She is highly regarded as a repertoire and voice expert on the developing adolescent voice, and is sought as a presenter of master classes and workshops at many music conferences. She has presented workshops for many NATS meetings and recently for the Delta Omicron Tri-annual Convention. She has given more than 70 lectures on vocal repertoire, vocal techniques and studio management throughout the United States and Canada.

She played French horn in the Harrisburg Symphony for seven years, nine years with the Robert Aulenbach concert jazz orchestra, and for 38 years in the Dickinson College Community Orchestra. In addition, she performed as a chamber music hornist in various quintets, quartets, trios and duos. At IUP, she was a member of the concert band, the orchestra and the Mellowmen. Other IUP musical activities included the women’s glee club, concert choir and the Six Squaws vocal group. She played in the pit orchestra for Swingout in 1953 and sang major roles in the 1954 and 1955 productions. She represented IUP at several intercollegiate band and choral festivals.

Boytim has presented 15 vocal recitals as a mezzo, including lecture recitals on the vocal works of Alan Hovhaness, Vincent Persichetti, Amy Beach, Dominick Argento and Daniel Pinkham. She has been a guest soloist with the West Shore Symphony, Potomac Symphony, Dickinson College Orchestra, Hagerstown St. Cecilia Choral Society, Shippensburg Orchestra and Festival Chorus, Gettysburg Community Chorus, Harrisburg Choral Society and the Harrisburg Opera Company. She and her husband were both active in the Allison United Methodist Church Senior Choir.

She is a life member of the International Horn Society, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Music Educators National Conference, Delta Omicron and the Carlisle Musical Arts Club. She is active in the Music Teachers National Association, the Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association – Harrisburg Chapter and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS).

In 2015, she made a significant financial commitment, which for the first time provided major financial support for the professional development of independent teachers through attendance at NATS National Conferences. Up to 14 awards are made to teachers who teach exclusively in an independent studio setting in advance of each national conference. NATS renamed its Independent Teacher Fellowships the Joan Frey Boytim Awards for Independent Teachers as a result of her generous contribution.

Boytim has been honored with numerous awards, including the Carlisle Kiwanis Club Distinguished Service Award, and was named to Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in Entertainment.

She is also an accomplished artist, working in oils and watercolor, and has had her works displayed in the Bosler Memorial Library and at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center. Her anatomical line drawings add detail in several radiology textbooks written by John H. Harris, Jr. M.D., D.Sc., including The Radiology of Emergency Medicine, Emergency Radiology Syllabus and The Radiology of Acute Cervical Spine Trauma.

She was married to James A. Boytim, Ed.D, a 1959 IUP alumnus, who passed away in December 2014. Together, they established six endowed scholarships at IUP. They also funded an IUP vocal teaching studio, constructed during the renovation of Cogswell Hall. She dedicated the room to her vocal teacher, Gladys Dunkelberger, who taught her from 1952 to 1955. Boytim resides in Carlisle. 


The Lifetime Achievement Awards will be bestowed at the NATS Gala Banquet at the National Conference in Chicago, on Monday, July 11, 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the Banquet are available for $90, and can be purchased with or without complete conference registration. For more information on the Conference, its program, sessions and registration information, click here.

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