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Lina Cavalieri



No international performer of the early 20th century better exemplified the maxim beauty enables everything than Lina Cavalieri. An Italian orphan who chafed under the restrictions of the Catholic orphanage that raised her, she ran away to Paris as a teenager, and secured employment as a music hall beauty. Told that the beauty of her voice matched that of her face and figure, she secured training as a classical singer, married a Russian prince, and at age twenty-six debuted as Nedda in "Il Pagliacci" in Lisbon.

From 1900 to her 1906 Metropolitan Opera appearance opposite Enrico Caruso in "Feodora," Cavalieri's ascent into the first rank of international stars was steady. While lacking the vocal flexibility and force of her contemporaries, she nonetheless possessed a firm sense of characterization, and a talent at giving her singing emotional color. She was also, some claimed, "the most beautiful woman in the world."  From 1906 to 1908 she starred at the Met, until Oscar Hammerstein's rival company hired her for the 1909-1910 season. After four seasons in America, she returned to Europe, created a sensation in St. Petersburg, traversed Europe several times, singing every popular soprano role in concert with the finest singers of the age.

In 1914, at age forty, she scaled back the performing to became a beauty guru with a line of cosmetic products and a newspaper column. In the following year big money enticed her into the world of silent films. When World War I drove her back across the Atlantic, she continued to act before motion picture cameras in New York. After the war she married the wealthy Paolo d'Arvanni and retired to Italy where she died in Allied bombing in 1944. David S. Shields/ALS