Opera diva Maria Callas may have been murdered by a pianist desperate to inherit her £5 million fortune, according to film director Franco Zeffirelli.
The legendary moviemaker suggests that rather than dying of a heart attack, the soprano could have been poisoned by the woman, who was within a 'strange circle' of new friends in her final years.
Callas died 27 years ago in her Paris apartment aged 53, and Zeffirelli, who this month became the first Italian to receive an honorary knighthood, has made a film of her final days, Callas Forever.
'In her last years, Maria was totally under the control of a woman named Vasso Devetzi,' Zeffirelli said. 'Little by little, she cleared everyone away.
'I have been told Maria left a will giving everything to her maid, her driver and a musicians' retirement home. But after she died, there was no sign of this will and Devetzi got most of what Maria had.
'Devetzi was giving Maria sleeping pills and amphetamines the whole time. It is legitimate to think that Devetzi killed Maria and then stole everything she had.
'Why else would Devetzi have her body cremated immediately after the funeral service? Maria hated the idea of being cremated. Was it because Devetzi was covering her tracks? Maria's death was put down as a heart attack but there was never an autopsy.'
The truth is unlikely ever to be revealed. Vasso Devetzi is herself dead. It is believed to be her heirs who were behind the recent £1 million sale by Sotheby's of some of Callas's fabulous jewels.
Zeffirelli called the sale disgusting, saying those behind it were 'jackals exploiting Maria's legacy'.
Callas was one of the last century's greatest voices and an icon of the Fifties and Sixties. She was married first to Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, then to shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.
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