28 February 2011

Lina Cavalieri

Soprano Lina Cavalieri - Maria Mari

Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944) / Habanera / Carmen (Bizet) / Recorded: March 1910

In the second frame Ms. Cavalieri is pictured with her third husband, the French tenor Lucien Muratore

Lina Cavalieri

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.

27 February 2011

Anna Held

(1872 - 1918)

Anna Held

Helene Anna Held (March 8, 1872 – August 12, 1918) was a Polish-born stage performer, most often associated with Florenz Ziegfeld, her husband.

Born in Warzsaw, she was the daughter of a Jewish glove maker, Shimmle (aka Maurice) Held, and his French-Jewish wife, Yvonne Pierre. Sources of her year of birth range from 1865 to 1873. In 1881, antisemitic pogroms forced the family to flee to Paris, France. When her father's glovemaking business failed, he found work as a janitor, while her mother operated a kosher restaurant. Held began working in the garment industry, then found work as a singer in Jewish theatres in Paris and, later, after her father's death, London; she was also in Goldfaden's ill-fated Paris troupe, whose cashier stole their money before they ever played publicly.

Her vivacious and animated personality proved popular, and her career as a stage performer began to gain momentum. She was soon known for her risqué songs, flirtatious nature and willingness to show her legs on stage. Around this time, she became the wife of a much-older Uruguayan playboy, Maximo Carrera, with whom she had a daughter, Liane (1895–1988), shortly after their 1894 marriage, and who became an actress and producer, sometimes billed as Anna Held, Jr.

Touring through Europe she was appearing in London in 1896 when she met Florenz Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld asked her to return to New York City with him and she agreed. He set about creating a wave of public interest in her, by feeding stories about her to the American press. By the time Held and Ziegfeld arrived in New York, she was already the subject of intense public speculation. When she finally performed, the critics were dismissive of her, but the public liked her.

From 1905 Held enjoyed several successes on Broadway which apart from bolstering Ziegfeld's fortune, made her a millionaire in her own right. Ziegfeld's talent for creating publicity stunts ensured that Held's name remained well known. Held suggested the format for what would become the famous Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, and helped Ziegfeld establish the most lucrative phase of his career. Held could not perform in the first Follies in 1908 as she had become pregnant by Ziegfeld. She later miscarried or had an abortion.

In 1909 he began an affair with the actress Lilliane Lorraine. Held remained hopeful that his fascination would pass and he would return to her, but instead he turned his attentions to another actress Billie Burke, whom he would marry in 1914.

Held spent the years of World War I working in vaudeville, and touring France, performing for French soldiers and raising money for the war effort. She came to be regarded as a war heroine for her contributions, and was highly regarded for the courage she displayed in travelling to the frontline to be where she could do the most good. She returned to the United States and starred in the film Madame le Presidente (1916).

Shortly afterwards her health began to fail. She collapsed onstage in 1918 and died after a few months from multiple myeloma at age 45. She is interred in Hawthorne, New York. Ziegfeld was castigated by the media he had so studiously courted, for his mistreatment of Held and apparent indifference to her illness, and his notable absence from her funeral.

in Wikipedia

24 February 2011

La Castiglione

The Queen on Hearts, by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861-63

Virginia Oldoini (1837–1899), born to an aristocratic family from La Spezia, entered into an arranged and loveless marriage at age seventeen to Count Francesco Verasis di Castiglione. Widely considered to be the most beautiful woman of her day, the countess was sent to Paris in 1856 to bolster the interest of Napoleon III in the cause of Italian unification. She was instructed by her cousin, the minister Camillo Cavour, to "succeed by whatever means you wish—but succeed!" She caused a sensation at the French court and quickly—if briefly—became the emperor's mistress. Separated from the husband she had bankrupted by her extravagances, she retreated to Italy in self-imposed exile in 1858. She returned to Paris in 1861, however, and once more became a glamorous and influential fixture of Parisian society, forming numerous liaisons with notable aristocrats, financiers, and politicians, while cultivating an image of a mysterious femme fatale.

In July 1856, the countess made her first visit to the studio of Mayer & Pierson, one of the most sought-after portrait studios of the Second Empire. Her meeting with Pierre-Louis Pierson led to a collaboration that would produce more than 400 portraits concentrated into three distinct periods—her triumphal entry into French society, 1856–57; her reentry into Parisian life, from 1861 to 1867; and toward the end of her life, from 1893 to 1895.

Fascinated by her own beauty, the countess would attempt to capture all its facets and re-create for the camera the defining moments of her life. Far from being merely a passive subject, it was she who decided the expressive content of the images and assumed the art director's role, even to the point of choosing the camera angle. She also gave precise directions on the enlargement and repainting of her images in order to transform the simple photographic documents into imaginary visions—taking up the paintbrush herself at times. Her painted photographs are among the most beautiful examples of the genre.

While many of the portraits record the countess' triumphant moments in Parisian society, wearing the extravagant gowns and costumes in which she appeared at soirées and masked balls, in others she assumes roles drawn from the theater, opera, literature, and her own imagination. Functioning as a means of self-advertisement as well as self-expression, they show the countess, by turns, as a mysterious seductress, a virginal innocent, and a charming coquette. Provided with titles of her own choosing, and often elaborately painted under her direction, these images were frequently sent to lovers and admirers as tokens of her favor. Unique in the annals of nineteenth-century photography, these works have been seen as forerunners to the self-portrait photography of later artists such as Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier, and Cindy Sherman.

Pierson's earliest photograph of the countess, The Black Dress (Martini di Cigala Collection, San Giusto a Rentennano, Siena), dates from 1856, a few months after her arrival in Paris, and shows her demurely posed before the camera, wearing a black velvet evening gown with her hair in ringlets. Soon, however, the images began to take on the elements of fantasy and personal display that would become hallmarks of her collaboration with Pierson. In a photograph of 1856–57, for example, she appears pale and solemn in the white garb of a nun. In The Queen of Hearts (1861–63; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris), re-creating her appearance at a masked ball, she is a personification of love in a voluminous gown and veil festooned with roses and hearts. In The Queen of Etruria (1863; private collection), also reprising one of her costumes for a ball, she is an exotic and imperious ruler from antiquity.

After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, the countess lived an increasingly reclusive and eccentric life in an apartment on the Place Vendôme, venturing out only at night, shrouded in veils. Toward the end of her life, following a hiatus of some twenty-five years, the Countess di Castiglione resumed her sessions with Pierson. The pictures reveal her mental instability and loss of all critical sense. Conscious of the earlier work she had accomplished with Pierson, she dreamed of showing their oeuvre at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in a retrospective titled "The Most Beautiful Woman of the Century." This was not to be. The Countess di Castiglione died on November 28, 1899, at the age of sixty-two.

Following her death, her reputation as a woman of mystery and "divine beauty" endured, thanks in large part to the legacy of her photographic oeuvre. Among the aesthetes of fin-de-siècle Paris, her life was the subject of admiring and often obsessive curiosity. Prominent among them was Robert de Montesquiou, who spent thirteen years writing her biography, La Divine Comtesse (published in 1913), and who assembled a large collection of her photographs, 275 of which were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1975. Her life has also been the subject of numerous subsequent biographies and a 1955 film, La Castiglione, starring Yvonne De Carlo.

Malcolm Daniel
Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Source: The Countess da Castiglione | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

23 February 2011

La Divine Comtesse

Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione (22 March 1837 – 28 November 1899), better known as La Castiglione, was an Italian courtesan who achieved notoriety as a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France. She was also a significant figure in the early history of photography.

Born Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni, on 22 March 1837 in Florence, Tuscany to Marquis Filippo Oldoini and Marquise Isabella Lamporecchi, members of the minor Tuscan nobility, she was often known by her nickname of "Nicchia". She married Francesco Verasis, conte di Castiglione, at the age of 17. He was twelve years her senior. They had a son, Giorgio.

Her cousin, Camillo, conte di Cavour, was a minister to Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy. When the Count and Countess travelled to Paris in 1855, the Countess was under her cousin's instructions to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III of France. She achieved notoriety by becoming Napoleon III's mistress, a scandal that led her husband to demand a marital separation. During her relationship with the French emperor in 1856 and 1857, she entered the social circle of European royalty. She met Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, Otto von Bismarck and Adolphe Thiers, among others.

The Countess was known for her beauty and her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. One of her most infamous outfits was a "Queen of Hearts" costume. George Frederic Watts painted her portrait in 1857. She was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, pale skin, a delicate oval face, and eyes that constantly changed colour from green to an extraordinary blue-violet.

The Countess returned to Italy in 1857 when her affair with Napoleon III was over. Four years later, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, conceivably in part due to the influence that the Countess had exerted on Napoleon III. That same year, she returned to France and settled in Passy.

In 1871, just after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, she was called to a secret meeting with Otto von Bismarck to explain to him how the German occupation of Paris could be fatal to his interests. She may have been persuasive, as Paris was spared Prussian occupation.

In 1856 she began sitting for Mayer and Pierson, photographers favored by the imperial court. Over the next four decades she directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her create 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. She spent a large part of her personal fortune and even went into debt to execute this project. Most of the photographs depict the Countess in her theatrical outfits, such as the Queen of Hearts dress. A number of photographs depict her in poses risqué for the era - notably, images that expose her bare legs and feet. In these photos, her head is cropped out.

Later yearsVirginia spent her declining years in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms decorated in funereal black, the blinds kept drawn, and mirrors banished—apparently so she would not have to confront her advancing age and loss of beauty. She would only leave the apartment at night. In the 1890s she began a brief collaboration with Pierson again, though her later photographs clearly show her loss of any critical judgement, possible due to her growing mental instability. She wished to set up an exhibit of her photographs at the Exposition Universelle (1900), though this did not happen. On November 28, 1899, she died at age sixty-two, and was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Robert de Montesquiou, a Symbolist poet, dandy, and avid art collector, was fascinated by the Countess di Castiglione. He spent thirteen years writing a biography, La Divine Comtesse, which appeared in 1913. After her death, he collected 433 of her photographs, all of which entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Countess's life was depicted in a 1942 Italian film La contessa Castiglione and a 1954 French film La Contessa di Castiglione that starred Yvonne de Carlo.

(source: Wikipedia)

19 February 2011

Ma Jolie (1904)

Ma Jolie - Mme. Morganti des Folies-Bergère, Sifflomane
Paris Disque Odéon n°3926 - 1904
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