Despite having sold some 15 million records during her career, singer Orietta Berti remains largely overlooked by fans of 1960s Italian pop and beat. For many, she is too closely linked to Italian versions of hits by Belgium’s singing nun, big but uninspiring ballads and, later, Schlager, folk and even children’s songs. But a deeper delve into her back catalogue reveals some great tracks from this underrated star.
She was born Orietta Galimberti on 1 June 1943 in Cavriago, in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy. Her father was an opera buff and he encouraged his daughter to sing from a very early age. She went on to study music and singing.
In 1961, she tied for first place with Iva Zanicchi in a song contest and was offered a recording contract with the Karim label. However, her first two 45s, Non ci sarò and Se non avessi più, both issued in 1962, failed to attract much attention.
The following year she switched to the Polydor label, where she would remain for the next 15 years.
Serenata surbana – originally a South American tune – became her debut release for the new label, though she achieved greater notoriety in 1964 with her version of Soeur Sourire’s Dominique. Its success even prompted a whole album of covers of the Belgian nun’s songs. (Imagine.)
It was a surprise, then, when Polydor opted to issue the poppier Tutto è finite fra noi as the follow up 45. The real gem of the release, however, was the B-side, Vai, Bobby, vai, a cover of Lesley Gore’s US hit Run, Bobby, run.
A win at the Un disco per l’estate in 1965 with Tu sei quello gave the singer her first big hit, reaching number two in the charts that July. It also marked a change in style – big ballads were in, pop was consigned to B-sides. In this case, another Gore song, No more tears, retitled Se per caso, became the flip.
Similarly, the beat gem Le ragazze semplici lingered on the reverse of the ballad Voglio dirti grazie, her winning song from the Rose festival of 1965.
Orietta’s popularity afforded her a place at the prestigious San Remo contest in January 1966, where she performed Io ti darò di più, which made it to the final, though it didn’t win. However, she lost out in a chart war with Ornella Vanoni, who had also performed the song at the contest.
Polydor were keen to promote their new star abroad, and Orietta was whisked into the studio to
re-record some of her hits for the Spanish market. Her San Remo entry became Yo te darìa mas for her first Spanish-language release. (A similar push was made in France the following year, though without any great success.)
At home, further ballads, Quando la prima stella and Dove, non so (the theme from the film Dr Zhivago), consolidated her success. A second LP was also issued, which included her hits to date and some new material, notably Quando partirai, a version of Brit girl Lesley Duncan’s When my baby cries.
From then on, Orietta trod the well-worn path of song contest after song contest.
1967 brought success with Io, tu e le rose (at San Remo), Solo tu (at Un disco per l’estate), Ritornerà da me (Festivalbar) and Io potrei (Rose festival). In the UK, Cliff Richard enjoyed a top ten hit with his cover of her Solo tu, All my love.
If Orietta was disappointed to be eliminated before the final of the 1968 San Remo contest with Tu che non sorridi mai, she found consolation by finishing second at Un disco per l’estate with the catchy Non illuderti mai. The song went on to enjoy a 12-week run in the top ten of the charts during the summer that year.
She also enjoyed some success with Se m’innamoro di un ragazzo come te, from the Canzonissima, and even appeared as a nun in the film Zum, zum, zum.
The hits continued for the remainder of the decade with the dramatic Quando l’amore diventa poesia (from the 1969 San Remo festival), L’atalena (Un disco per l’estate) and Una bambola blu (Canzonissima).
The collective social conscience of the early 1970s saw Orietta tackle some tough issues through her songs, including feminism, prostitution and immigration.
In 1973, she moved into performing folk songs – enjoying success with the results – before taking several acting roles in films such as 1978’s Quando c’era lui... caro lei!
After a foray into performing songs for children, she returned to the San Remo stage in 1986 with Futuro.
In the 1990s, Orietta became a familiar face on Italian TV screens as a presenter, and she continues to issue the occasional album.
Follow the links to hear other singers’ versions of Orietta Berti songs
Annie Markan: Quand mon ami pleure
Our pick of the pops
Se per caso
Le ragazze semplici
Non illuderti mai
Vai, Bobby, vai
Io ti darò di più
Buy online now
Gli anni della Polydor 1963-78 (3 CD box set)
Find Orietta Berti 45s, LPs and CDs at GEMM
Orietta Berti online
Una chica simple