The star Greek-American soprano (1923-1976), a legend in her time and today, has left many signed photos, programs, letters and signed records.
A Maria Callas signature is today one of the most sought-after modern autographs in the opera memorabilia world.
Thanks to demand, the market is full of all kinds of autographs by her, including many that are obviously fake. Our article focuses on discussing the authenticity of a Maria Callas autograph.
Handwriting Discrepancies in a Maria Callas Autograph
Some noted Maria Callas fans and memorabilia collectors, started noting discrepancies in her signature early on, and decided to turn detectives.
For example a photograph of Callas sitting at the piano working on a score that two lines of writing above the signature showed distinct differences between two instances of the name "Maria" - one in the text, and one in the signature. Could this actually have been her then husband, Meneghini, signing as Callas?
Maria Callas autograph? at the piano
An important Maria Callas memorabilia collector from Spain named Jose Luna, who had close and personal contact with Maria Callas from the late 1950s until the singer's death in 1977, wrote her asking for autographs, had no answers. One day, he received two - one of Callas in costume as Amina in La Sonnambula by Bellini, and another with her in costume in the title role of Gluck's Iphigenia in Tauride.
However, an important Italian Callas fan, Vera Merighi, received these 2 signed photos:
where one can clearly see a discrepancy in writing between the 2 received by the same fan. All the above discrepancies occurred with photographs signed during her marriage with Meneghini (1949-1959).
As can be seen in the previous examples, Callas handwriting, while married, strangely displayed at least 3 “variants” in style.
It would appear that Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas husband for 10 years, was very good at adapting his own handwriting to look like that of his wife, and there is good evidence suggesting that there was a third person involved in creating these fake autographs. This stopped when Callas and Meneghini separated around December 1959.
It is also important to remember that Callas signed with the “Meneghini” last name between “Maria” and “Callas” only in the period she was married to him (1949 through 1959).
These inconsistencies in Callas’ handwriting during the time of her marriage were troubling, and the market was filled with signed photographs attributed to Maria Callas showing one of those variants. This led to yet another important and highly experienced Callas collector, David Crothers, to write a short essay about her autographs - an essay upon which this article is based - in order to help novel collectors in their search for authentic Callas autograph material.
The Real Deal – What does a genuine Callas signature look like?
When looking at a large number of authentic Maria Callas autographs, from 1947 (at age 24, 2 years before her marriage with Meneghini) through 1977, the last year of her life, the signatures show very little variation.
This can be considered strong evidence that she didn’t ‘change’ her signature over the period of her marriage – someone else was doing an awful lot of signing for her.
It’s important to compare genuine, verified samples of Callas’s authentic handwriting with that of her husband, and that’s where the collections with larger numbers of handwritten material attributed to her prove exceptionally important.
Giovanni Battista Meneghini Autograph Letters, writing as himself:
Giovanni Battista Meneghini writing and signing as Maria Callas:
Giovanni Battista Meneghini signing photos as Maria Callas:
A comparison of same pictures signed by either her husband, G.B. Meneghini, as Maria Callas, and 2 authentic Maria Callas autograph photos:
Signed by G.B. Meneghini as Callas:
Signed by Maria Callas herself:
More interesting still, several examples exist of both Meneghini and Callas writing as themselves on the very same page, which is even more helpful when looking for similarities and differences.
Maria Callas and G.B. Meneghini writing on the same page:
So who, in addition to Meneghini, was signing Maria’s photographs? Anecdotal evidence from a now-deceased Italian collector would suggest Giovanna Lomazzi, Callas’s friend since 1952, and “little sister”. Lomazzi had told this unnamed Italian collector that she helped Meneghini to fake autographs to send to fans. However, this is something she never confessed in public thus cannot be confirmed.
There don’t appear to be readily available examples of Lomazzi’s personal, authentic handwriting, but there are several verifiable examples of Meneghini’s, all when writing as himself. These compare closely with indisputable examples of Meneghini writing as his then-wife.
These signatures were ‘helped with’ with Callas’s consent. However, apart from curiosity value, they should be considered pretty much worthless or of very little value as Callas autographs.
With at least three different hands in play, it seems incredible to think that some of the obvious fakes have ever changed hands for money at all, let alone some of the fees that they have reached at auction. What is perhaps even more troubling is that they all came with a guarantee of authenticity of some kind.
Sets of initials are interesting to examine too; Callas was not in the habit of dotting between her initials. A flowing MMC is her style, whereas her husband signing for her shows a significantly less flowing initial M, and a dot between each initial and after the C.
Authentic autographs by Maria Callas, with initialization:
It’s useful to look at genuine examples of Maria Callas authentic signature and examine what is a definite fingerprint of her handwriting.
The ‘as’ separation
Maria Callas’ handwriting is free-flowing and tends to join together. It’s worth noting that examples with the letters ‘as’ separated from ‘Call’ in her surname date from the time of her marriage and the time of her marriage alone. Callas authentic autographs never show this separation, yet Meneghini´s handwriting sometimes does. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that these examples were probably signed by Meneghini, especially as it always happens in examples where it is known to be Meneghini writing on behalf of his then-wife.
There is another interesting point of reference in three separate signed instances of the famous Jerry Tiffany portrait taken as an artist publicity shot for the Teatro La Scala. This photograph has become iconic in its own right. Looking like a film star, Callas is wearing a necklace with four strings of pearls, and a makeup and hair look which firmly places it in the late 1950s.
The first one (at the top) of the above three is the only genuine. The other two, not so – the center example has a very small ‘ll’ in the middle of her surname, and is also quickly scribbled. The one on the right has two colors of ink, and apparently two styles of handwriting; the message would appear to be in Callas’ hand, the signature, not.
The likelihood is that Callas had a quantity of ready-signed photographs, and would occasionally add personal messages to fans when required. A good example of this is the 3rd (right) photograph shown in the “as” separation section above.
On the left, the Angus McBean portrait exhibiting a similar dual color (blue on top, black on the signature and year) penmanship is actually genuine on both writings. On the right, also above, the portrait by Luxardo shows the anomaly of having the signature and date in Callas’s hand, but Meneghini has written the greeting above it - a very interesting example.
This all clearly points to Callas and Meneghini both being quite happy to make sure her fans had signed images, and for Meneghini to help with signing when required. A lot of the photographs mentioned above were from 1959, indicating that the couple must still at the very least have been on good terms at the start of the year before she left him for Onassis towards the end of it. It’s also possible that she dictated letters for her husband to write and sign for her, as her eyesight was very poor.
These examples and the existence of letters dictated by Callas and handwritten by Meneghini show that Callas was aware of the signings in her name and was complicit with them.
The small ‘ll’
Callas was inclined to make both letters very prominent in her signature, often with the second ‘l’ taller than the first (although it’s worth noting that her entire signature had a tendency to be small in the last year of her life). Her handwriting remained remarkably similar over her entire public and professional life, so it’s easy to find reliable indicators of a genuine signature.
As mentioned above, Callas’s eyesight was poor. There is photographic evidence of her having to bend very closely over items she is signing to be able to see what she was doing.
This also means that she was disinclined to sign anything quickly. Rather, she would write her name slowly and deliberately. Therefore, if the writing or signature looks rushed or ‘scribbled’, that’s a reasonable indication that it might be a fake.
Some notable scribbles date from the London Traviata performances in 1958, and the Medea performances from 1959, both at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. They are almost certainly the work of Meneghini, who accompanied her on these trips:
The Overturned ‘a’
On the top, a photograph taken during a concert in Stuttgart, Germany, a Maria Callas authentic autograph, with a typical final tail of the “a” at the end of “Maria” not folded over itself - many examples of this final “a” in “Maria” can be seen in the authentic autographs shown above.
Below it, an example of the fake “overturned a”, you can find other examples of this problem among those shown above as fakes by Meneghini and Lombazzi.
This formation of the letter ‘a’ also appears on a letter – in Italian - written to Rudolf Bing at the Metropolitan Opera. The letter itself is typed, but the signature would appear to be written by Meneghini.
It’s worth to briefly talk about the content of the letter, which is fascinating; Callas dismisses the rumors which cast doubt on her fulfilling her debut season. It also refers to the court case in which Eddy Bagarozy, her former supposed manager who had a process server hand her the papers just as she came offstage in Chicago in the title role in Madama Butterfly (giving rise to the famous ‘snarling tigress’ photograph and diva reputation). There are five typed Callas/Bing letters in the Metropolitan Opera archive. It’s hard to say whether they were genuinely written/dictated by Callas, or whether they are the work of her husband – there is a certain amount of hostility in them, and it’s hard to determine who out of the two of them this was coming from.
Another example of this “overturned a” problem can be seen in this letter, obviously written by Meneghini and signed as Maria Callas:
Autographs After Meneghini
After she had left her husband in late 1959, Callas lived alone. Her companions were her butler, Ferruccio, and her maid, Bruna. In the year or so after her marriage broke up, and while she was still living in Milan, she also employed a secretary called Teresa D`Addato. There’s nothing to suggest that any of these three ever wrote her signature for her.
Maria Callas authentic writing could occasionally be scruffy (again, probably attributable to her poor eyesight), but was never shaky – if a signature looks hesitant, it is unlikely to be genuine. She could make mistakes and try to correct them:
Callas was also fond of using Texta Pens, a thick-tipped permanent marker ideal for signing photographs. Unfortunately, forgers are also fond of Texta pens as they cover a multitude of sins when it comes to handwriting idiosyncrasies.
Again, it’s worth paying attention to the flow of the writing, and particularly to the formation of the double ‘ll’. Here is a good authentic example, a photo by Cecil Beaton:
If anything is shaky, or sold with the typical story of “she signed it in a rush” or “the photo was in the air, no support underneath”, then it is better to pass on those. A good, valuable autograph should not only be authentic, but it should also be exactly that, good.
Another shaky, bad fake:
Here are more good examples of Callas autographs with felt tip pens:
She also signed in fountain pen and rollerball pens, here are some examples of fakes, some of this obviously from the same author of fakes:
Please notice the Norma backstage photo, with a misspell on her last name…
Callas may or may not have been the most complete artist of the opera singers last century, and that is a debate that will rage probably without end as long as there are opera fans who have heard her recordings. She had a unique, instantly identifiable voice, and the electrifying ability to get inside the words and the notes leaps straight at the listener. It’s not always a comfortable experience, and that’s what perhaps defines greatness.
Callas would now be rapidly approaching her 100th birthday if she were still alive. She was an extraordinarily elegant and photogenic woman with a global career in what many view as a golden age of singing, so the demand for collectibles and memorabilia – whilst maybe not what it once was – is still high.
Two final bits of advice which may help with future disputes on authenticity are worth mentioning: obtain a guarantee from the seller and addressed to you that states that the signature is in Maria Callas’ own hand, and a guarantee that you will get your money back in full should it ever be proven otherwise. A Certificate of Authenticity is nowadays a pretty much a worthless piece of paper.
We hope this essay helped you in your search for that Callas authentic autograph. Bear in mind the advice above, and enjoy the experience and the community of fans worldwide. Finally, collecting should be about enjoyment as much as obtaining signatures that may or may not increase in value in the future.
Note: Article based on an original essay by David Crothers, exclusively edited by Zoe South and Nestor Masckauchan for the Autographs and Collectible Blog at Tamino Autographs.
MORE OF INTEREST:
- Maria Callas Autographs and Memorabilia
- Maria Callas Unsigned Photos
Interested in authentic autographs?
SIGN UP for TAMINO AUTOGRAPHS NEWSLETTER