The collection came from the estate of industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas's husband. Some 28 years her senior, he married the soprano in 1949 and supported and nurtured her career from the early successes to her achieving international renown. She left Meneghini after a decade for the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (who famously abandoned her to marry Jacqueline Kennedy). Meneghini never got over the desertion and continued to love his ex-wife; many of the items sold yesterday were personal effects he purchased at auction after her death in 1977.
Yet the most widely publicized items on sale — a collection of letters from Callas to her husband — were a disappointment: the lot was valued by Sotheby's at €70,000, but the bidding never got beyond €38,000, according to The Independent of London and Bloomberg News.
The correspondence ranged from early love letters written by Callas to her then-fianc_ to laments over her inability to conceive a child. Bidder interest in the lot may have been weak because the contents were familiar, according to a Sotheby's spokerwoman: Meneghini, who died in 1981, had published them in a book titled My Wife Maria Callas. (The collected correspondence on auction also included some letters to the soprano by other notables, including conductor Leonard Bernstein and directors Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli.)
Other items did better than expected, according to BBC News. A gold and emerald Cartier brooch, estimated at €4,000, sold for €74,650. A silver Tiffany bowl, a gift from John F. Kennedy inscribed with the words "To Maria Callas who fulfils the prophecy of President John Kennedy: our generation shall be remembered for its artists," valued at about €2,500, brought €26,650. A painting of the Madonna and Child from 16th-century Venice went for €204,250. A collection of scores, some with Callas's signature, fetched €42,250. Even the wedding rings of Callas and Meneghini were on sale, bringing in more than €25,000.
Also included in the Callas belongings on sale at yesterday's auction, according to The Times of London, were paintings and furniture; evening gowns and costumes; jewelry; silver and china; a candelabra given to th soprano by La Scala in 1956; her collection of LP recordings; contracts with various opera houses; and even her metronome.
Yesterday's event was the latest of several auctions of Callas memorabilia and personal effects over the past few years, as various individuals who were associated with the soprano during her lifetime age and pass away. Zeffirelli, who speaks often of his friendship with Callas and has made a habit of loudly decrying auctions of her belongings, was quoted in The Times as saying, "The memory of Maria is being sold off piece by piece ... I hope there are no more sales and that what is sold ends up in good hands." He added that Callas was "the most important woman of the 20th century, apart from Mother Teresa of Calcutta."