28 February 2011

Lina Cavalieri

Lina Cavalieri (December, 25, 1874 - February 7, 1944)was an Italian operatic soprano, known for her great beauty. Born Natalina Cavalieri, her origins are mysterious. According to one story she lost her parents at the age of fifteen and became a ward of the state, sent to live in a Roman Catholic orphanage. The vivacious young girl was extremely unhappy under the strict raising of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a touring theatrical group to Paris. The other account has her growing up in great poverty and working as a flower-seller and newspaper-packer in Rome. She then went to Naples where she sang in street cafes.

by Giovanni Boldini

Blessed with a good singing voice, a young Cavalieri made her way to Paris, France, where her stunning good looks opened doors and she obtained work as a singer at one of the city's café-concerts. From there she performed at a variety of music halls and other such venues around Europe while still working to develop her voice for the opera. She sang at the Folies Bergere in Paris and achieved some success in St. Petersburg. Here Cavalieri met the Russian prince, Alexander Bariatinsky. The handsome and wealthy prince persuaded her to become an opera-singer and paid for her to take lessons from Mariana-Masi in Milan. She became his mistress or his wife. It is unclear.

Her opera debut was in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1900, the same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Bariatinsky. The beautiful singer’s debut in Lisbon was a disaster. The audience loudly derided the entire opera company when they played Pagliacci, forcing them off the stage.

Eventually she followed in the footsteps of Hariclea Darclée as one of the first stars of Puccini's Tosca. In 1904 she sang at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo then in 1905, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris, Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso in the Umberto Giordano opera, Fedora. From there, she and Caruso took the show to New York City, debuting with it at the Metropolitan Opera on December 5, 1906.

Cavalieri remained with the Metropolitan Opera for the next two seasons performing again with Caruso in 1907 in Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Cavalieri became so carried away with Caruso that she once kissed him passionately on stage.

Renowned as much for her great beauty as for her singing voice, she became one of the most photographed stars of her time. Frequently referred to as the "world's most beautiful woman," she was part of the tightlacing tradition that saw women use corsetry to create an "hour-glass" figure. Audiences probably came to see her rather than hear her, although one critic wrote that she ‘has a sincere aptitude for the stage’ and her voice ‘has a certain prettiness'.

During the 1909-1910 season she sang with Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company. Her first marriage long over, she had a whirlwind romance and marriage with Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930), a member of New York's prominent Astor family. However, this marriage lasted only a very short time - it only lasted a week because his family refused to let him sign his inheritance over to her. He did settle $200,000 on her. During her brief marriage, Cavalieri, so the story goes, managed to cajole Chanler out of his entire considerable fortune. Chanler's brother, committed to a mental institution in Virginia, sent a short and highly publicized telegram reading "Who's looney now?"

Cavalieri returned to Europe where she became a much-loved star in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the Ukraine. During her career, Cavalieri sang with other opera greats such as the Italian baritone Titta Ruffo and the French tenor Lucien Muratore, whom she married in 1913. They sang on stage together and starred in silent films, including Manon Lescaut and The Shadow of Her Past.
After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a cosmetic salon in Paris. In 1914, on the eve of her fortieth birthday — her beauty still spectacular — she wrote an advice column on make-up for women in Femina magazine and published a book, My Secrets of Beauty. In 1915, she returned to her native Italy to make motion pictures. When that country became involved in World War I, she went to the United States where she made four more silent films. The last three of her films were the product of her friend, the Belgian film director Edward José.

Married for the fourth time to Paolo d'Arvanni, Cavalieri returned to live with her husband in Italy. Well into her sixties when World War II broke out, she nevertheless worked as a volunteer nurse. Cavalieri was killed in 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home in the outskirts of Florence.

La Cavalieri's discography is slim. In 1910, for Columbia, she recorded arias from Faust, Carmen, Mefistofele, La bohème, Manon Lescaut and Tosca, as well as the song, "Maria, Marì! (Ah! Marì! Ah! Marì!)." In 1917, for Pathé, the soprano recorded "Le rêve passé," with Muratore.

She was painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini (acquired by Maurice Rothschild) and by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947). In 1955, Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida portrayed Cavalieri in the film The World's Most Beautiful Woman.

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