Saturday, April 14, 2012

Opera's Greatest Beauty

Praised as 'the most beautiful woman in the world', Lina Cavalieri was a legendary opera singer and the most photographed star of her time.

Born as Natalina Cavalieri on Christmas Day 1874 in Italy, Lina lost her parents at a very young age. She grew up in great poverty, selling flowers and newspapers in Rome. She was then taken to a Catholic orphanage, but the strictness of the nuns prompted her to run away with a touring theatrical group. Eventually, she made her way to Paris, where her beautiful singing voice obtained her work as a singer in cafe-concerts. She then performed at a variety of music halls and other venues in Europe. Once she was able to save enough money, she begin her voice and singing lessons under a certain Mme. Marchesi, with whom she worked diligently for two years.

Gradually, Lina's talent, and her extraordinary beauty, made her the talk of Europe. She then made her way to Russia, performing Neapolitan songs in different theaters in St. Petersburg. It was here that she met and fell in love with Prince Alexander Bariatinsky. It was said that he persuaded Lina to be an opera singer and paid for her voice lessons at Mariani Masi in Milan. In 1900, she married Prince Bariatinsky, and at the same year, made her opera debut in Lisbon.

Her debut in Lisbon was not successful. But this did not undermine her to continue her career as a singer. Fortunately for her, her next singing ventures were more successful. In 1904, she sang at the Opera de Monte-Carlo, and then in Paris. Her singing in New York Metropolitan Opera earned her success when she co-star with the tenor Enrico Caruso.

Lina became a famous beauty of the Belle Epoque. Audiences flocked 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’. She had amassed a fortune in just a few short years since her debut. She was considered to have a classical beauty, an hour-glass figure, with charm and personality free from affectation and her taste in dress was exquisite.

Her marriage with Prince Alexander Bariatinsky was not successful. They separated, and Lina had a whirlwind romance and marriage with an American, Robert Chandler. However, the marriage lasted for only two weeks, and with her marriage over, decided to go back to Europe. Her third husband was the French tenor Lucien Muratore, whom she married in 1913. They sang together on stage and starred in silent films.

Lina's fourth marriage was with Paolo d'Arvanni. She returned with him in Italy and retired there, setting up a beauty salon. During World War II, she became a volunteer nurse. But she was killed on 7 February 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home in the countryside of Fiesole, a small town near Florence, where she was placed under police surveillance because of her foreign husband. Hearing an American bomber nearby, Lina, her husband and servants ran to the air-raid shelter in the grounds, but she and her husband were delayed because they were collecting her valuable jewellery from the house. Both Lina and her husband were killed running to the air-raid shelter, while the servants inside the shelter all survived.


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