|A cabinet card portrait of the much-married opera singer Lina Cavalieri, known as ‘The world’s most beautiful woman.’
Born Natalina Cavalieri at Viterbo on 25 December 1874, she lost her parents when she was fifteen and was sent to live in an orphanage as a ward of the state. A vivacious young girl, she chaffed under the strict regime of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a theatrical touring company. Blessed with a good singing voice, she made here way to Paris, 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 moved on to music halls and other such venues around Europe, while still working to develop her voice for opera. A soprano, Cavalieri made her opera début at Lisbon in 1900, the same year she married her first husband, the Russian ‘Prince’ Bariatonsky. Eventually she followed in the footsteps of Hariclea Darclée as on 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 Giordano’s Fedora. From there, she and Caruso took the opera to New York, débuting it with the Metropolitan Opera on 5 December 1906.
Cavalieri remained with the Metropolitan Opera for the next two seasons, performing again with Caruso in 1907 in Puccin’s Manon Lescaut. 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 woman use corsetry to create an hour-glass figure. Her first marriage long over, she had a whirlwind romance and marriage with millionaire Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930), a member of New York’s prominent Astor family. However, she left him after only a week, and the eddy of scandal which ensued made further engagements at the Metropolitan impossible. Cavalieri returned to Europe, and thence to pre-Revolutinary Russia, where she became a much-loved star.
During her career, Cavalieri sang with other opera greats such as the Italian baritione Titta Ruffo and the French tenor Lucien Muratoré, whom she married in 1913. After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri opened 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 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 the First World War, she decamped to the United States, where she made four more silent films.
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.
Lina Cavalieri was killed on 7 February 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home on the outskirts of Florence.
Photographed by Reutlinger of 21, boulevard Montmartre, Paris. By the time this portrait was taken, the studio would have been in the hands of Léopold-Emile Reutlinger, nephew of the firm’s founder.
condition: Apart from one small patch of foxing in the area of the sitter’s shoulder and one small black
mark at its right-hand edge, the print is in very fine condition. The mount shows minor edge and corner
wear but is otherwise in excellent condition.
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