by Antonio Lilliu
The last DIVA: VALENTINA CORTESE.
In the mid ‘80s Franco Zeffirelli directed the drama "Maria Stuart" with two primadonnas of the Italian theatre, Rossella Falk and Valentina Cortese, respectively in the role of Elizabeth I of England and Mary Stuart, the Scots’ Queen. At the time I was studying Fashion Business in Florence and had no chance to see the play since the tickets for the Teatro della Pergola were sold out months in advance.
Today, I can smile about my disappointment of those time for not having the chance to get close to these legendary figures of the Italian theater in the masterwork of Friedrich Schiller. As a young guy I didn’t know that life always deserves you a second chance.
In the early ‘90s I visited Vienna to spend the Christmas holydays: Vienna is not only the Catholic Habsburg capital, and the carefree hedonist town of the Walzer, it’s also “Vindobona”, the Roman gate towards the Slavic world, which still represents the most mysterious culture within Europe, an astonishing stage where the unexpected can happen.
In Vienna is use to spend the evening of New Year’s Day at theatre. So I decided with a friend of mine to go and see the “Merry Widow” at the Volkstheater, one of the few theaters out of the tourist track, as we were said. During a break between an act and the other looking towards the audience, I saw in the front rows an old man accompanied by a lady dressed in an almost original way, with an ivory turtleneck long dress, a Chinchilla fur coat long up to earth, wrapped around the body like an ancient Romans’ Toga, and a scarf tied behind the head. This image reminded me the one of an iconic lady of Italian theater. Actually, because of the distance, I couldn't be completely sure about it. My curiosity was, anyway, so strong that I couldn’t avoid trying to see the lady closely ... in the meantime, she and her companion got up heading toward me in the direction of the foyer. My exclamation was so spontaneous that surprised even me:
"Ma'am, you are Valentina Cortese!!!"
While raising her eyes slowly and holding with the left hand the edges of the fur robe, she gave me the other hand, "Yes, I am. Good evening…and what's your name? "
"You’re Italian, aren’t you? ... what a coincidence being in Vienna in the same theater. Where do you come from Italy? "
"Oh. You know, I adore Sardinia!"
"I'm glad, because I'm sure that the Sardinians adore you."
"It's very nice what you say; I'm terribly happy to hear it."
During all the time we had been chatting, hand in hand, I could not move even for a second my eyes away from her figure. She was extremely beautiful, I think I've never seen a woman with such a bright, fresh and clear skin, so perfect like a pearl, shiny eyes, gentle smile and the aplomb of a Renaissance Madonna.
In 2010 Enrico Groppali published for the Editor Mondadori the biography of Rossella Falk, with the subtitle “The last diva”. Certainly, the Italian theatre was full of prestigious female personalities such as Lida Borelli, Paola Borboni, Sarah Ferrati, Lilla Brignone, Ileana Ghione, Anna Proclemer, Valeria Moriconi and Franca Rame. To actresses happens today what once happened to Roman emperors, who after death received the title "Divus" by the Senate, to be welcomed in the roman Olympus.
Nevertheless, not any emperors received the title of "Augustus" being alive, which the senate eventually granted them for the merits of having changed the world in harmony with a divine plan. Women of the Roman imperial families (who given the condition of woman could not aspire to any official political role) got extremely rarely the title of "Augusta", which was usually awarded together with that of "Mater Patriae", to emphasize the merit of supporting the state by perpetuating the values of the Roman world.
François Truffaut, Strehler, Luchino Visconti, Terry Gillian, Michelangelo Antonioni, Joseph Losey, Mankiewicz, Fellini and Robert Aldrich are just few film-makers and theater’s directors Valentina Cortese played with along her formidable career. Born in the most aristocratic and international Italian city, Milan, she grew up in a farming family, from young promise of light Italian comedies genre called "Telefoni Bianchi" in the beginning of ‘40s, she arrived in Hollywood in the early 50’s.
Today it is almost grotesque to imagine Valentina Cortese in Hollywood rubbing elbows with Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, etc. In fact, disappointed by the American film factory she was back in Italy to experience the period of maximum creativity in film and theatre productions. During all the life, Valentina Cortese has remained a genuine, open, sensitive personality and a versatile actress, so passionate as few ones, …a true Ambassador of Italy at its best.
A personality you can compare only to Eleonora Duse, who was “THE DIVINE" par excellence! I'm sure if Valentina had lived in the Imperial age, she would have received the title of “AUGUSTA” by the Senate of the Roman Empire. She is the LAST DIVA, letting us witnessing the miracle of art, intelligence, beauty and style transcending time. And then ... does she love fashion? A woman you can meet in Milan’s “La Scala” as well as in Vienna’s “Volkstheater” loves beauty in all its forms. That’s what matters.