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Born Natalina Cavalieri, on Christmas Day at Viterbo, some eighty kilometers (50 miles) north of Rome, 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 unhappy under the strict discipline of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a touring theatrical group.
Blessed with a good singing voice, a young Cavalieri made her way to Paris, France, where her appearance 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. Cavalieri took voice lessons and made her opera debut in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1900 (as Nedda in Pagliacci), the same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Alexandre Bariatinsky. 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 opera to New York City, debuting with it at 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 Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Renowned as much for her great beauty as for her singing voice (and acting ability), 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. 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 the prominent Astor family. However, this marriage lasted only a very short time and Cavalieri returned to Europe where she became a much-loved star in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the Ukraine.
Other operas in her repertoire included La bohème, La traviata, Faust, Manon, Andrea Chénier, Thaïs, Les contes d'Hoffmann (as the courtesan Giulietta), Rigoletto, Mefistofele (as both Margarita and Elena), Adriana Lecouvreur, Tosca, Hérodiade (as Salomé), Carmen (the title role), Siberia, and Zazà.
During her career, Cavalieri sang with other great singers, including Giuseppe Anselmi, Mary Garden (the world premiere of Massenet's Chérubin, 1905), Mattia Battistini, Titta Ruffo, Feodor Chaliapin, Nikolay Figner, Antonio Scotti, Vanni Marcoux, Giuseppe Zanatello, Tito Schipa, and the French tenor Lucien Muratore, whom she married in 1913 after his divorce from soprano Marguerite Bériza. 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 began, she nevertheless worked as a volunteer nurse. Cavalieri 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 polcie surveillance because of her foreign husband. Hearing an American bomber nearby, Cavalieri, her husband and servants ran to the air-raid shelter in the grounds, but Cavalieri and her husband were delayed because they were collecting her valuable jewellery from the house. Both Cavalieri and her husband were killed running to the air-raid shelter, while the servants inside the shelter all survived.
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. For American Pathé, she recorded arias from Carmen and Hérodiade.
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). The latter is now the property of the Metropolitan Opera, the gift of Nicholas Meredith Turner in memory of his wife, the soprano Jessica Dragonette. Hers is the face that appears repeatedly, obsessively, in Piero Fornasetti's designs.
In 1955, Gina Lollobrigida portrayed Cavalieri in the film Beautiful But Dangerous (also known as The World's Most Beautiful Woman). In 2004, a book was published, authored by Paul Fryer and Olga Usova, titled Lina Cavalieri: The Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944.
- Manon Lescaut (1914)
- La sposa della morte (1915)
- La rosa di Granada (1916)
- The Eternal Temptress (1917)
- Love's Conquest (1918)
- A Woman of Impulse (1918)
- The Two Brides (1919)
- L'idole brisée (1920)
- Bianchi, Piero (1969). Francesca Bertini e le dive del cinema muto. Turin: UTET.
- The New Music Review and Church Music Review,, Volume 11 By American Guild of Organists 1911 pg. 299
- New York Times - 9 February 1944
- Lina Cavalieri: the Life of Opera's Greatest Beauty, 1874-1944 By Paul Fryer, Olga Usova 2004 pg. 4
- Lina Cavalieri: the Life of Opera's Greatest Beauty, 1874-1944 (2006) By Paul Fryer, Olga Usova pg.6
- Bianchi 1969, p. 169.
- La Gandara
- Lina Cavalieri at the Internet Movie Database
- Lina Cavalieri in "Maria, Marì (Ah! Marì Ah! Marì)" (audio only, 1910).
- "L'Altra Notte" -Lina Cavalieri(1910)(YouTube)
- Lina Cavalieri; findagrave.com
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