Sotheby's to auction Callas letters, dresses in Milan

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MILAN, Oct 25 (Reuters) From love letters to evening dresses, personal belongings of Greek-American opera diva Maria Callas will be put up for sale in Milan in December.

The material, released by the estate of her late husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, unlocks aspects of the life Callas shared with the man she left before having an explosive relationship with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

There are some 295 lots in the collection to be auctioned by Sotheby's, including material Meneghini bought at an auction after Callas' death in 1977, a spokeswoman said.

Love letters written to Meneghini, an Italian industrialist 28 years her senior and who was also her manager, will be offered for 50,000 euros to 70,000 euros.

Photographs of ''La Divina'' on stage and one with US President John F. Kennedy start around 1,000 euros while her personal metronome is being offered for 1,000-1,500 euros.

Evening gowns made by Milan designer Biki are also on sale.

New-York born Callas, who performed at Milan's La Scala opera house, became one of the 20th century's most iconic figures and is credited with the almost single-handed revival of Italian bel canto opera. She died in 1977 aged 53.

The auction has attracted interest from Athens, which has previously bought relics that once belonged to the soprano.

''All I can say is that we are interested,'' said Greek Culture Ministry official Panayiotis Kakoliris. He would not say how much Greece was prepared to spend or how funds would be raised.

Born Maria Kalogeropoulos, Callas first performed in Greece when she was 18 and is adored by even those who are not opera fans.

The auction will take place on December 12, while an exhibition will open to the public on December 7.

Reuters AK VP0455

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