On December 5th 1906, Lina Cavalieri gave tenor Enrico Caruso a passionate kiss in front of an astounded audience, caught completely by surprise by the opera singer’s intense gesture.
After that, “the most beautiful woman in the world”, as fans called her, also became “the kissing primadonna”: that “coup de théâtre” on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House made Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora” simply unforgettable, and brought Cavalieri great luck in her career.
Born in Viterbo in 1874, Lina Cavalieri had grown up in poverty; her voice was her only wealth, and she sang while busy at random jobs working as a florist or seamstress, or folding newspapers along the streets in Rome.
Someone heard her and gave her singing lesson, and that beautiful and intelligent young lady was able to use that help wisely. Although her vocal range was not extraordinary, her presence on stage helped her stand out on the most important opera theaters in the world, from the San Carlo in Naples to the Imperial Theater in Warsaw, from the Massimo in Palermo to the São Carlos in Lisbon, from London’s Covent Garden to Genoa’s Carlo Felice, from the Sarah Bernhardt in Paris to the Metropolitan in New York – where she planted her scandalous kiss on Caruso.
She sang with the famous Neapolitan tenor, of course, but also with Mattia Battistini and Fjodor Šaljapin, performing in Verdi’s “Traviata”, Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and “Bohème”, Massenet’s “Hérodiade” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”, rivaling with shining stars like Geraldine Farrar and Bella Otero.
Her personal life was as intense as her career: countless lovers, five husbands, and a son born out of wedlock, from a relationship with a singing teacher.
He left the world of opera in 1921, moved to Paris and opened a beauty salon. She died in 1944 during an airstrike that hit her villa in Florence.
She charmed artists such as Piero Fornasetti – inspiring the iconic female face he replicated in so many silkscreen prints – and Giovanni Boldini, who famously painted her portrait. Even Mussolini was impressed by her beauty, and when he found out about her death – perhaps feeling he would soon lose his own life in much worse conditions – he wrote to Claretta Petacci, “She was favored by fate, because she died without realizing it, without pain.”
Now here she is, in all her ethereal beauty.