Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has spoken of Zampatti’s final week at St Vincent’s Hospital, adding he suspects the choirs of angels “are about to get new uniforms”.
“Her fall at the opening night of La Traviata poignantly took place amidst the high art and beauty she had long loved and promoted,” he said.
“It also took place as the world turned its annual gaze to a young man’s death. Like the faithful few gathered around the cross, Carla’s family kept watch by her hospital bed.
“She died on Holy Saturday, as Christ was harrowing hell only hours before the proclamation that He had risen from the dead.
“She moved then, not into the grim limbo of ancient nightmares but to the bright stage lighting of eternal life. Meeting her risen Lord face to face.”
He said the readings at the state funeral resonated with the story of Italian-born Zampatti.
“The breadth and inclusiveness of salvation speaks to a great theme of Carla’s life,” he said.
“That a nine-year-old girl could arrive from Italy with no English and limited education and rise to great heights in this country, joining millions of other newcomers in enriching our shores while enjoying its opportunities.”
The archbishop said she was a “brave spirited woman”, leaving school at 14 to go to work and separating from her first husband Leo Schuman in 1969 while pregnant with their son, Alexander.
“The single mother courageously built her own fashion house from scratch,” he said.
“Carla’s determination, even defiance, in a world where women were presumed to be the weaker sex … once again echoes the Easter story.
“It was the women who first saw the empty tomb and the risen Lord. It was the women who first announced Christ risen.”
Archbishop Fisher said he was always struck by Zampatti’s intelligence, charm and grace each time her met her at the Sydney Catholic Business Network.
“None of us knows what Carla said to her creator upon her return to him. Though I suspect the choirs of angels are about to get new uniforms,” he said, to which laughs rang out in the cathedral.
He said the 78-year-old died “only after wowing us one last time” with an elegant appearance at the opera.
“It was fitting that it was opera on the harbour. Popular and accessible,” he said. “For she was not all haute couture but for beauty: for women in every walk of life.”