The Italian soprano Magda Olivero (née Maria Maddalena Olivero), studied in Turin with Luigi Gerussi, Luigi Ricci and Giorgio Federico Ghedini.
Magda Olivero began her career taking unfruitful auditions for Italian radio. Eventually accepted as a pupil by Luigi Gerussi, she finally made her radio debut in 1932 as Mary Magdalene in Nino Cattozzo's (1886-1961) rather obscure oratorio I Misteri Dolorosi. After further studies in Turin, she made her first stage appearance as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi at the city's Teatro Victorio Emanuele. In 1933 she made her debut at Milan’s La Scala as Anna in Nabucco. This was followed by an engagement with a company touring the Italian peninsula. In 1937, she returned to Turin, this time to the Teatro Carignano, and was acclaimed in Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Trancredi e Clorinda. Word travelled quickly about the gifted young soprano, and that same year she recorded Liu to Gina Cigna's Turandot. She sang widely in Italy as Adriana Lecouvreur, Puccini's Liu, Suor Angelica and Minnie, Violetta, Zerlina, Poppea and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. She performed widely and increasingly successfully until 1941, when she married and retired from performing, purged of all strength and emotion after each of her stage appearances. The retirement kept her largely away from the public.
However, Magda Olivero returned to the stage ten years later, in 1951, at the request of Francesco Cilea, who regarded her as his ideal interpreter and asked her to sing the title role in his opera Adriana Lecouvreur. From 1951 until her final retirement, she sang in opera houses around the world. She appeared in London as Mimi in 1952 during an Italian season at the Stroll Theatre. Her Adrianna at the 1953 Edinburgh Festival brought more warm reviews. Further appearances in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires. The essence of verismo, Olivero won an enthusiastic following during her exceedingly long career. Colleagues who found much to criticize in other artists reserved special approval for Olivero, whose art and integrity they valued. Among her most renowned interpretations were the leading parts in Adriana Lecouvreur, Mascagni's Iris, Fedora, La bohème, Minnie in La fanciulla del West, La traviata, La Wally, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Mefistofele, and Turandot (as Liù), Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, Puccini's Giorgetta and Tosca. She also devoted herself to contemporary works such as operas by Francis Poulenc and Menotti. When she made her American debut as Cherubini's Medea at Dallas in 1967, audiences who had known her only as a name were transfixed by her singing and acting. She sang this role alsao n Kansas City in 1968. In April 1975, already an international star for four decades, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in Tosca, after which Olivero sang the role nine more times in the house and on tour.
Magda Olivero’s last performances on stage were in March 1981 in the one-woman opera, La voix humaine by F. Poulenc. Thus, her stage career ended at age 71 and spanned nearly 50 years. She continued to sing church music locally and, well into her eighties, made a recording of several arias. When in her early eighties, she recorded major scenes from Adrianna Lecouvreur; her always slender, rather reedy voice was reduced in size, but still guided by all the conviction, crystalline diction, and unfaltering legato that were her hallmarks. She made occasional singing appearances into her nineties. Olivero celebrated her 102nd birthday on March 25, 2012.
Recordings exist of many of Magda Olivero’s great performances of both full operas and arias and scenes. Among her studio recordings are Turandot (as Liù, with Gina Cigna, for Cetra, 1938), Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1961, Naples), Cherubini’s Medee (conducted by Nicola Rescigno, 1967), Fedora (with Mario Del Monaco and Tito Gobbi, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, for Decca, 1969), Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (1967, Teatro La Fenice in Venice), highlights from Francesca da Rimini (with Del Monaco, conducted by Nicola Rescigno, for Decca, 1969), Puccini’s II Tabarro (1970, Teatro Comunale in Florence), Alfano’s Risurrezione (1973, Turin). In 1993, she recorded, with piano accompaniment, Adriana Lecouvreur (with Marta Moretto as the Princesse de Bouillon); excerpts from this recording were published on the Bongiovanni label. At age 86, she performed Adriana's monologue in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic.