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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Diva's Paris auction
Maria Callas
Legend: Callas is still regarded as one of the finest ever opera singers
More than 400 items once owned by the late opera diva Maria Callas are to be auctioned in Paris at the end of the year.

The sale of items, which include a selection of her outfits as well as a valuable painting, is expected to raise more than 1m.

I gathered, preserved and admired these belongings

Ilario Tamassia
The possessions are being sold by a private collector and a former close friend, Ilario Tamassia.

Maria Callas died a virtual recluse in her Paris apartment in 1977, aged 53.

She is still regarded in the opera world as one of the greatest singing actresses of all time.

Many of the items to be sold languished for years in the garage of a Greek villa, owned by Giovanni Meneghini, Callas' estranged husband for 18 years.

He sold the items to Ilario Tamassia, a collector, in 1982.

"I gathered, preserved and admired these belongings, and through them I believe I know and love Callas," said Tamassia.

"But I think it would be unjust if this collection were to remain hidden in my house," he added.

'Rome scandal'

Nicolas Petsalis-Diomidis, a close friend of the singer, is selling the remainder of the items.

The possessions range from the mundane to the bizarre.

Under the hammer are locks of her hair and collectors can also purchase her underwear and a Pyrex measuring jug.

Of most interest is a tiny oil painting of the Holy Family, given to her by Menegihini on the eve of Callas' debut performance in Verona.

Callas refused to part with the painting and it became her charm - she refused to perform without it in her dressing room and once sent a private plane to collect the work from Milan.

The 18th century painting is expected to fetch 50,000.

Also available is a hand-written note which unravels the mystery of one of the greatest scandals in her career.

On stage, I am in the dark

Maria Callas

The note, written with a make-up pencil, explains why she suddenly, and dramatically, left the stage after the first act of an opera in Rome in 1958.

It explained to the audience, which included the Italian president, that a respiratory illness had caused her voice to fail.

But the note, composed by Callas and written by her husband, was never read to the audience and Callas was condemned for insulting the president.

The incident became known as the Rome scandal.

A pair of tortoiseshell glasses is expected to fetch up to 9,000.

Callas once said: "On stage, I am in the dark."

She would not wear glasses on stage and admitted she could hardly see her fellow performers and "the conductor not at all".

The auction will take place at the French auction house Calmels Chambre Cohen and will be broadcast in Britain on the Auction Channel.

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