It was the first to sing about politics in Sanremo. It was 1952, the Sanremo Casino was hosting the second edition of the Italian Song Festival, born the previous year, and Adionilla Pizziaka Nilla, as the reigning winner – twelve months earlier she had triumphed with “Thanks for the Flowers” - appeared on stage singing “Fly dove”.
Apparently, a harmless song, typical of that Italy that was licking its wounds from the war. In reality, the lyrics of the song – co-written by Bixio Cherubini, former pilot of the Italian Air Force in the First World War, and Carlo Concina – contained numerous references to a story that was very topical in those years: the .question of the return of Trieste to Italy. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1947, the city became an independent city state under the protection of the United Nations. Even if Trieste was never mentioned directly in the text, various expressions alluded to the story: from the Church of San Giusto (“Who knelt in San Giusto”) to the shipyards (“We left the shipyard”).
Among melancholic tarantellas, kittens, dreams, Madonnas of roses, novels and beautiful women, Nilla Pizzi triumphs by interpreting the dream of a united Italy, but truly united (the Trieste affair was resolved only two years later, with the London Memorandum). Not only that: in addition to winning with “Vola colomba” (which she would return to perform in Sanremo, this time at the Ariston, in 2010, at the age of ninety, a year before her death), the singer from Romagna, born in Sant’Agata Bolognese, between the Apennines and the Po, he also took second place with “Poppies and Papers” and third with “Una donna pray”. Only woman in the raceHer Majesty Nilla beats the competition of the fierce Gino Latila, Oscar Carboni and Achille Togliani: it is the beginning of the myth of the queen, who makes Sanremo the fiefdom of her kingdom.
It would be reductive, however, to speak of Nilla Pizzi only as the queen of the Sanremo Festival. In addition to “Thank you for the flowers”, “Vola colomba” and “Poppies and ducks” there is more, much more. The Emilian singer was an avant-garde feminist figure, who defied society’s expectations – she was a passionate woman, much loved and always much sought after by the men in her life, from her husband Guido to the orchestra director Cinico Angelini – and paved the way for future generations of women artists. His myth belongs to another geological era in the history of music and customs more generally – he made his debut in 1938, the year of the racial laws, when he was just nineteen, in a show for the soldiers of the 59th Infantry of Bologna, organized for the Armed Forces Day – but in one way or another it remains very current: in the spring of 1944, two years after the victory in a competition for new voices announced by Eiar (Italian Radio Auditions Authority, the future Rai), it was removed from the radio after a negative opinion from maestro Tito Petralia due to his voice,
considered too sensual and exotic for the fascist regime. He didn’t give up: he made his motifs an instrument of personal and collective emancipation. He became – as the journalist and music critic Marinella Venegoni wrote – “a dangerous symbol of the woman who emerged free from the war”.
Speaking about her artistic journey, Nilla Pizzi described it as a ladder: “At a certain point, if you’re lucky, you reach the top, like I did in the early ’50s. So the important thing is to find the right way to get off. I tried to get down without slipping and without breaking my neck. So I settled on my step, from where I continued to sing, have evenings, have fun”. The February 6on the debut day of the Sanremo Festival 2024, a song will be released unpublished. Is titled “They are not dreams” and it is the last one recorded by the diva in the weeks before her death: Nilla Pizzi never dies.