December 13, 2007 / 12:09 AM / 10 years ago

Buyers snap up treasures from Maria Callas's life

MILAN (Reuters) - Love letters, jewellery, dresses, photographs and other memorabilia that belonged to Maria Callas fetched 1.76 million euros ($2.5 million) at an auction on Wednesday 30 years after her death.

<p>A silver cup which belonged to opera singer Maria Callas is displayed at the Sotheby's house auction in downtown Milan, December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>

Bidding was hectic as admirers across the world tried to snap up treasures from the life of the Greek-American opera star whose voice enchanted millions, said Sotheby’s auction house in Milan.

“She came back to be more popular than before,” Sotheby’s representative Iris Fabbri said after the auction.

The items released by the estate of Callas’s late husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini unlocked aspects of the life Callas shared with the man she left for Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

Many items sold for more than their pre-auction estimates, but 63 letters written to Meneghini, an Italian industrialist 28 years her senior who was also her manager, went for only 32,650 euros compared with their estimate of 50,000-70,000 euros.

Written between 1947 and 1950, they showed her affection for him and desire for a child.

Meneghini’s diary recounting his separation from Callas after she and Onassis became lovers went under the hammer, together with legal documents on their split and wedding rings.

Callas’s temper and turbulent life kept her constantly in the spotlight, as did her affair with Onassis. She became a recluse in later years.

A bowl given to Callas by U.S. President John F. Kennedy at his birthday celebrations in 1962 sold for 26,650 euros.

Bidding was heavy for a 13th-14th century “Madonna and Child” painting which fetched 170,000 euros. A portrait of Callas sold for 29,000 euros.

The New-York born soprano, who performed at Milan’s La Scala opera house, became one of the 20th century’s best-known musical figures. She was widely credited with the almost single-handed revival of Italian bel canto opera.

Her metronome, with a price tag of 1,000-1,500, went for more than 17,000 euros.

Born Maria Kalogeropoulos, Callas first performed in Greece when she was 18. She died in Paris at the age of 53 in 1977.

“We are closing the year of the 30th anniversary in maybe the most respectful way,” said Fabbri.

Editing by Ralph Gowling

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