Yesterday, Italy lost one of its greatest singers of popular music, Milva, a singer who interpreted Brecht (working with Giorgio Strehler at Milan’s Piccolo Teatro), collaborated many times with Astor Piazzolla, was an interpreter of chanson, as well as Italian pop songs. The rich, dark colour of her voice was truly unique. She was part of Italy’s ‘divine’ three singers: Mina, Milva, and Ornella Vanoni, but she was the youngest, dying at 81. She had been ill for several years.
Milva’s highly original career path took her from singing Spelunken-Jenny in Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to the San Remo Song Festival; from playing Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus at Teatro Bellini in Catania to several very popular television variety shows where she was a talented presenter, actress and singer; and she collaborated on albums with Ennio Morricone in 1965, Francis Lai in 1973, Mikis Theodorakis in 1978, Enzo Jannacci in 1980, Vangelis in 1981 and 1986, Franco Battiato in 1982 and 1986. She worked extensively outside Italy, in Spain, France, and South America, but she was popular especially in Japan and Germany where she toured almost every year. Her first 7″ single in 1960 was Milord, a song made famous by Édith Piaf the previous year. Her last recording came out 50 years later.
She sang at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Paris Opera, and the Royal Albert Hall. Also at La Scala.
Part of La Scala’s statement read,
From Strehler to Berio, Milva put her magnetic voice and compelling stage presence at the disposal of some of the most engaging and innovative musical and cultural projects presented at La Scala in the second half of the 20th century. [She was a] charismatic performer of an extraordinary musical period in which tradition and research were combined with results of the highest artistic value and infallible communicative effectiveness.
Milva made her debut at the Piccola Scala in 1975 in Io, Bertolt Brecht n. 2 which was presented by the Piccolo Teatro. Three years later, again at the Piccola Scala, she was the protagonist of the world premiere of Diario dell’assassinata by Gino Negri.
In 1982, Luciano Berio invited her to play the role of Primo cantastorie at the world premiere of his opera La vera storia with a libretto by Italo Calvino. Berio was the conductor and the production was on the main stage.
In 1988 she was the singer in Roland Petit’s choreographic drama L’angelo azzurro, danced by Petit himself together with Luciana Savignano.
Milva’s last appearance at La Scala was in 1989 when she was the protagonist in a concert performance of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins with La Scala’s Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Peskó.
She was awarded the highest artistic honours in Italy, France and Germany: Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honour of the French Republic (2009), Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (2007), Officer of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2006) and Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1995).
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.