Anonymous heir of exquisite Callas jewelry puts items up for sale at Sotheby’s in Geneva

GENEVA (AFP) – Jewellery belonging to the legendary late opera star Maria Callas will be put up for auction in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 17, the auctioneers Sotheby’s said Wednesday. The jewels, including diamond and ruby earrings, necklaces, emeralds and a ring with an 11.7-carat diamond – the most expensive item – were inherited by an anonymous close member of the soprano’s inner circle after she died 27 years ago. Sotheby’s estimated that they could fetch up to 1.2 million Swiss francs (770,000 euros / 950,000 dollars) in the auction, which will be one of the highlights of the glitzy autumn jewelry sales in Geneva because of the diva’s glamorous and tragic history. It is the first time that 11 jewels, which Callas received as gifts from her first husband, Italian industrialist and opera lover Giovanni Battista Meneghini, during the 1950s, have been put on sale. The daughter of Greek immigrants to New York, Callas – Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos by her real name – was born in 1923. She returned to her family homeland at the age of 14 after her parents separated. After her operatic debut in 1941, Callas returned in 1944 to the United States, where she reclaimed an old family surname that would captivate opera buffs throughout the world. Callas married Meneghini in 1949. The industrialist, who was 30 years older, managed her career, guiding the soprano through memorable performances in Milan, New York, Chicago and London. She fell in love with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, and their stormy and high-profile relationship led to the end of her marriage in 1959 and appeared to upset her performances on stage. Despite her devotion to Onassis, he married Jacqueline Kennedy nine years later. Her last public performance was in Japan in November 1974. A heartbroken Callas died in her Paris apartment in 1977. Sotheby’s said the jewels will be put on show in the Swiss city of Lugano, then Milan, Rome and Paris in the coming weeks before the auction. A spokesman said security precautions were being taken after a recent spate of jewelry thefts in Paris and Zurich.