Glittering stage jewels of Maria Callas go on show. And they're fake

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Diamonds may be a diva's best friend, but crystal suited Maria Callas just fine, at least when she was on stage.

An exhibit of stage jewellery worn by the soprano, known for her passion, dramatic performances and her romance with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, opened this month in Austria at the Vienna State Opera. It showcases the baubles Callas wore in Tosca, La Traviata, and Lucia di Lammermoor, among other operas. None of the pendants, chokers and tiaras would survive a jeweller's scrutiny: no real gems are here. But they have cachet, because Callas wore them.

"Callas has ascended almost to legendary status, and there are good reasons for that," said Philip Gossett, an opera expert and professor of music at the University of Chicago. "This was a woman who tore up the stage, of such an intensity no one had seen for decades, maybe ever."

The diva's star power endured long after her death in 1977. Born in New York in 1923 to Greek parents, Callas trained in Europe, struggled and married a wealthy Italian industrialist when her career began to take off. Callas left him for Onassis, and they had a stormy relationship until he wed Jacqueline Kennedy in 1968.

Her romantic entanglements only added to her lasting mystique. "She's a woman who suffered very much for love," said Andrea Scarduelli, a consultant who helped put the show together for the Austrian crystal-maker Swarovski.

Callas's career lasted only until her mid-40s. The jewellery serves as mileposts in her career, from the elaborate crown she wore as a virtually unknown singer in La Gioconda, in 1947 and ending with the teardrop pendant she wore as Paolina in Poliuto in 1960.

The pieces were made by Atelier Marangoni, of Milan, which designed stage jewellery for Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The exhibition has already been to Monte Carlo and Parma and will go to London, Tokyo, Florence, Salzburg and New York.