Milva, Redheaded Italian Diva of Many Artistic Hues, Dies at 81


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ROME – Milva, whose charisma, warm voice and flaming red hair made her one of the most famous divas in Italy from the 1960s to 1980s, died on April 23rd in a hospital in Milan. She was 81 years old.

Her daughter Martina Corgnati said the cause was a neurovascular disease.

In a varied career spanning more than 50 years, Milva has sung at pop festivals and performed in high-culture venues such as the Paris Opera and the renowned Milan Piccolo Theater. It became popular all over Europe, especially in Germany. She sang traditional songs and had contemporary hits. She wore glamorous dresses while singing left-wing hymns.

In a statement, President Sergio Mattarella called her “a protagonist of Italian music, a cultured, sensitive and versatile interpreter”. Her body was in Piccolo last month, where fans lined up to pay their respects.

“She always said,” First I’ll finish the show, then I can die, “said Ms. Corgnati.” The show came first of all. “

Milva was born Maria Ilva Biolcati on July 17, 1939 in Goro, a small northeastern town. Her father, Pescariello Biolcati, was a fishmonger. Her mother, Noemi Farinelli, worked as a tailor and had a talent for singing. Although Maria Ilva was shy, she also sometimes sang in outdoor dance halls and with local orchestras. When she was a teenager, her father’s fish truck collapsed and his business collapsed, and she began contributing to the family’s income.

She was known to audiences as Sabrina because she resembled Audrey Hepburn’s character in the 1954 Billy Wilder film of the same name. But her family called her Milva, a fusion of their two first names, and she remained professional.

Her deep, powerful voice caught attention. But her short brown hair and her light figure were a far cry from the thick manes and full hourglass figures that were in demand at the time.

To compensate, she padded her bras and thickened her legs with three pairs of stockings. An agent recommended that she dye her hair red, a color that became her trademark and earned her the nickname La Rossa, or the redhead.

Her career began in 1959 when she won a new voice competition on the Italian national broadcaster RAI. She received her own television special directed by Maurizio Corgnati, an anti-fascist intellectual whom she married in 1961.

“Then he created the Milva character,” said Ms. Corgnati.

Mr. Corgnati took on the shaping of Milva’s career and worked on her stage presentation and repertoire. He accompanied her on trips to Japan and the USA and, as Ms. Corgnati said, transformed a “clumsy provincial girl” into a charismatic diva.

The couple separated in 1969.

Milva was open about her leftist views and her voices for communist politicians. She sang about the murder of factory workers by the Italian police, played traditional anti-fascist songs of the Italian resistance and sang musical versions of the work of anarchist poets. She was identified with the political left, thanks in part to her bright red hair.

When she sang the Resistance song “Bella Ciao” in the RAI Auditorium in Naples in 1968, she said to the presenter: “I have a weakness for freedom songs.”

The renowned Italian director Giorgio Strehler, who directed Piccolo, cast her in Brecht roles, particularly Jenny in “The Threepenny Opera”. She brought his theatrical influence to her concerts, including 15 appearances at the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy.

She showed “tireless perfectionism” in the preparation of her performances, said director Filippo Crivelli, who had worked with her for several years.

She sang characteristically with her hand on her hip, often in Gianfranco Ferrès luxurious clothes and with a Guerlain perfume from the front rows.

She was featured in magazines, paparazzi followed her, and she was the subject of tabloid headlines, especially after one of her ex-friends found dead in his car under mysterious circumstances and another killed himself.

There was no shortage of admirers. Oscar winner Ennio Morricone dedicated an album to her. Astor Piazzolla asked them to sing his tangos. Italians knew her best for “Alexander Platz”, a hit adapted for them by the singer-songwriter Franco Battiato, a giant of Italian pop music, and for “La Rossa”, a song written by another great artist, Enzo Jannacci , had written for her.

She toured Asia and Europe and sang in at least seven different languages.

All of this work took its toll. When her vocal cords became infected, she gave herself cortisone shots to keep singing. According to Ms. Corgnati, the treatments contributed to her neurovascular disease. She retired in 2012.

In addition to their daughter, a sister, Luciana, and a brother, Antonio, survive.

Vicky Schatzinger, a pianist who worked with Milva for 15 years, said she made repeated promises to cut her red hair once she left the stage, but she never did.

“She had the feeling that her hair made her a character,” said Ms. Schatzinger. “But in reality she was her character herself.”



Robert Dunfee