Soviet Estrada and VIAs in Italian Boots (1960s-1970s)

Manuel Ghilarducci
In the Soviet Union, Italy was perceived as ‘the country of music’. Soviet Estrada artists used to travel to Italy to study music or take part in music festivals (Festival di Napoli, Sanremo); the good political relations between the Soviet and the Italian Communist Party and the strong diffusion of Italian Neorealist cinema in the USSR contributed to the formation of an italomania which can be still observed today. During the 1960s, Italian popular music and Neapolitan canzone were intensively received, diffused and covered in the Soviet Union. At the end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s, this reception proved itself to be crucial in the development of the Soviet VIAs. Analysing songs structures, lyrics, album covers and flexi-discs included in popular magazines, the article analyses the modi of this reception based on three case studies: Anna German’s diffusion of Neapolitan music in the Soviet Estrada scene; Robertino Loreti’s Soviet canonization as the ‘singer of the stars’; Gianni Morandi’s and Marino Marini’s influence on the music and aesthetics of two of the first Soviet VIAs, Poiushchie gitary and Orera.
VIA; Estrada; Italian and Soviet popular music; reception; adaption; music magazines.


Italy as the Land of Music

The Singer of the Stars

How an Italian Invented the VIAs: Marino Marini

From the Appennini to Moscow: Gianni Morandi

Concluding Remarks






Suggested Citation


In 2013, Marco Raffaini shot the documentary Italiani veri (True Italians), in which Russian music fans and Italian artists share their thoughts and memories about the popularity Italian pop music enjoyed in the Soviet Union. In Saint Petersburg one interviewee says: “You mean Italian Estrada? Well, that was a sort of pendant to Italian Neorealist films, which were released twenty years before […]. Italian cinema was popular then.” (Raffaini 2013: 29:03-29:19).

Italian Estrada had not only a strong impact on Soviet popular music “twenty years before”, but it also helped drive the beginning of the VIA phenomenon. Focusing on selected examples from the period 1964-1971, I will reconstruct a small history of Soviet-Italian musical relationships and attempt to illustrate the exact role Italian popular music played in the development of the Soviet popular music scene. My main concern is to look at Soviet popular music not as the result of a Westernisation process nor as a provincial imitation/import of foreign music as Ingo Grabowsky (Grabowsky 2012) and Liudmila Bubennikova respectively suggest (Bubennikova 1999), but to analyse the modes of reception themselves.

I will try to answer the following questions. Which Italian artists were received in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s? Which forms/modes of reception/adaptation can be observed? How did Italian music influence Soviet VIAs? I will examine a range of material including paratexts such as adaptations of songs, record covers, sleeve notes, music journals and popular magazines and performances. In Italy and other European countries, magazines contributed significantly to the growth of the ensembles of the 1960s (Bruccoleri 1996: 14-15) and, similarly, Soviet magazines contributed to the growth of the VIAs. The only substantial difference between the two contexts is the presence of ideological statements: in the Soviet Union, popular songs were in some cases reframed in the official political discourse.

I will proceed chronologically. After a few words about the cultural and political relations between Italy and the Soviet Unionof the Thaw period, I will focus on the 1960s, showing how Muslim Magomaev (1942) and Anna German (1936) revitalised the topos of Italy as the ‘land of music’ and boosted the reception of Italian music in the Soviet Union. I will concentrate on Italian artists who toured in the Soviet Union. In this section I will mention the unique example of Roberto Loreti’s (born 1947) Soviet canonisation and illustrate the influence Marino Marini (1924) and Gianni Morandi (1944) had on the VIAs Poiushchie gitary and Orera. This short history will show how the Soviet reception of Italian music constantly oscillated between cultural appropriation – in case of Russian adaptations and translations of Italian songs – and reproduction – in Melodiia’s reprinting of original Italian music.

Italy as the Land of Music

In the 1950s, Italy stood out among European capitalist countries for having the strongest Communist party of the West besides France – a party which was tightly bound to the Soviet Union. At the end of the 1950s, economic and cultural exchanges between Italy and the Soviet Union (Gillespie 2008: 47; Zhivotovskaia 2016: 116-123; Gilburd 2018: 47-48) were strengthened. In this time, “half a dozen Italian films entered the Gorkii Studio’s dubbing plans. […] Italian pictures formed the core of Western films in commercial release. The Soviet press was saturated with Italian names; periodicals published news from Italian filming sets and translations of Italian film scripts. […] [N]eorealism […] was emerging as the dominant aesthetic idiom” (ibid.: 189) and they reflected the “tragic beauty of the everyday” (Dumančić 2020: 220) of Post-War Italy. The détente of the Thaw period allowed better distribution of Western music. Italian and Neapolitan songs (in some cases reinterpreted under the influence of American swing) began to spread in the Soviet Union (Grabowsky 2012: 21-24). Since it was not possible for ordinary Soviet citizens to travel abroad, music adopted an escapist function and operated like a synecdoche of the country. Listening to Italian and Neapolitan music, consumers could undertake an imaginary journey to a country which functioned as a Mediterranean Sehnsuchtsort – an idyllic and romantic place to yearn for.

During the 1960s, the influence of Italian culture increased. Classic literature (Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio) began to be republished; in 1962, Eduardo de Filippo’s theater company performed in Moscow and Leningrad; in 1964, an exchange partnership was established between the La Scala theatre in Milan and the Bol’shoi, where in 1966 Muscovites could see Federico Zeffirelli’s La Lupa (She-Wolf) with the iconic Anna Magnani (Zhivotovskaia 2016: 117-118). In this period, the Sehnsuchtsort intertwined with the topos of Italy as the country of singing par excellence as the birthplace of (among others) opera, bel canto and music terminology.

This topos did not appear in the 1960s but was a revitalisation of an old one. Already during the 18th century, Italy was favoured for Russian diplomats’ and noblemen’s travels. Further, Italy was associated with music: Italian opera had been played at the Tsars’ court, and Italian music theatre was very successful in Russia. In the 19th century, Italy was perceived as the place par excellence for educational journeys in Europe (ibid.: 110-115; Deotto 2002: 7-9); Tchaikovsky conceived his Capriccio Italien (1880) there, and Glinka traveled in 1830 to Milan, where he studied at the conservatory. Rossini’s works became very popular in Russia: Aleksandr Pushkin wrote a letter in 1823 to Anton Del’vig about his admiration for Rossini and the importance of Italian opera in Russian culture. Pushkin saw Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville, 1816) and Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy, 1814) in Odessa and was excited about the Southern setting of the two operas: Siracusa (in Sicily) and Naples (Deotto 2002: 9-10). It is at this point that the topos of Naples as a city where man is in perfect harmony with a beautiful nature (ibid.: 136).

Both Magomaev and German studied in Italy, allowing them to interpret and record songs in the original language. In her memoirs, German depicts a stereotypical image not only of both Italy and Naples: “Italy seemed to me like a fairy tale […]. […] [W]here would one want to learn singing if not in blessed Italy?” (German 2013: 15-17). “When they are born, these people [Neapolitans] do not cry but sing; and they do not simply pronounce the first word ‘mum’ but they sing it” (ibid.: 28). The image of the Italian South as a source of inspiration for artists in virtue of the ‘innate musicality’ of its inhabitants and the beauty of its nature1 continues the pattern of perception established by the Russian reception of Rossini’s opera as well as the aestheticisation Italy underwent in Dmitrii Venevitinov, Evgenii Baratynskii and Pushkin (Deotto 2002: 17-18).

Magomaev trained at La Scala Theater in Milan from 1964 to 1965 under the above-mentioned student exchange with the Bol’shoi. His first record V put’/Ty mne nravishsia (On the Road/I Like You, Melodiia, 1964) contained two covers in Italian. As he recalls, Giacomo Gentilomo’s film Enrico Caruso, leggenda di una voce (The Young Caruso, 1951) and the works of Italian tenors (Mattia Battistini, Titta Ruffo, Beniamino Gigli) led him to decide to become a singer (Magomaev 1999: 41). Magomaev has covered the traditional canzone repertoire of the 1950s, opera arias and Neapolitan popular songs, fixing a vivid image of the Italian music tradition in the Soviet Union and familiarising Soviet audiences with Italian repertoire. In 1973, he sang Carlo Rustichelli’s “Amore vieni” (“Come, My Love”), composed for the soundtrack of the Soviet-Italian comedy Neveroiatnye prikliucheniia ital’iantsev v Rossii (The Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia). It cannot be discounted that Magomaev’s Azerbaijani origin played a role in Soviet audiences’ perception of him as an artist who had a ‘predisposition’ for Italian music, given that he came himself from the ‘South’ of the Soviet Empire. As I will show later on, this can also be said about the Georgian VIA Orera, which has been performing Italian and Neapolitan compositions in a frame of self-exoticisation.

Anna German was the first to come in contact with the modern Italian Estrada of the 1960s, a repertoire which Magomaev did not cover. Born in the Uzbek SSR, she moved to Poland after her father was executed on charge of espionage (Vinnichenko 2011: 4-5). Her career started there. In 1962, she obtained a scholarship for an internship in Rome. In 1964, she covered Gigliola Cinquetti’s “Non ho l’età” (“I’m Still Too Young”) in Italian, a song which won both the Sanremo festival and the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen in that year and quickly became famous all over the world thanks to covers in different languages2. The Soviet reception was rapid: German’s song was broadcast on TV (MO 2011), and Tamara Miansarova adapted it into Russian; in 1965, her cover appeared in the film Zvoniat, otkroite dver’ (Someone’s Ringing, Open the Door, 1965). The immediate reception of this song shows that Melodiia noted which Estrada songs were popular abroad and quickly brought them to the USSR.

In 1965, an Italian-language cover by the Georgian VIA Orera appeared: it is one the first VIA interpretations of a foreign Estrada song made popular in the Soviet Union by a local Estrada. Orera’s cover has the classic Estrada sound: the quartet accompanies Nani Bregvadze’s soloist voice but does not have the musical complexity of the later VIA works. This shows that there were no fixed criteria in the reception of Italian music and no substantial difference between its reception among Estrada and VIA artists. These songs came from a country perceived as attractive and prestigious both for its music traditions and for its capability to create international hits.

Anna German was the first singer from a Warsaw Pact country to release records in Italy. This shows that an investigation of the development of Soviet popular music in the 1960s cannot be made only in terms of Western influence on the Soviet Union. In 1966, the label Company Discografica Italiana (CDI), which promoted Italian and foreign Estrada, jazz and beat artists, gave German a three-year contract (ibid.: 24). She released two 45 RPM records: Chi sei tu/Meglio dire di no (Who Are You/Better to Say No, 1966)3 and Gi (1967). “Chi sei tu” is an Italian cover of “Ne speshi” (“Do Not Hurry”), a song composed by Arno Babadzhanian on lyrics by Evgenii Evtushenko and recorded by Magomaev in 1964. German’s cover is not a translation from Russian: Vincenzo Buonassisi rewrote the lyrics in Italian. Evtushenko was so popular at that time in Italy4 that “Chi sei tu” was labeled as ‘Evtushenko’s song’ (La canzone di Evtushenko) on the vinyl cover:

German’s first Italian record Chi sei tu/Meglio dire di no (CDI 1966). The presence of ‘Evtushenko’s song’ is proudly indicated on the album cover

The song was performed on the TV-show Giochi di famiglia (Family Games) hosted by Mike Bongiorno. Data on the audience appeal of the show is unknown, but the fact that German could perform on a TV show hosted by one of the most important Italian presenters indicates that the singer’s popularity in Italy was growing significantly. 1967 was a crucial year for German. She participated at the Sanremo Festival5, again hosted by Bongiorno. In the same year, German participated at the Festival di Napoli, the festival of Neapolitan music held in Sorrento, with “Te faie desidera’” (“You Make Yourself Wanted”), written in Neapolitan by Gennaro Amato, Aldo Valleroni and Pietro Faleni. German was the first foreign artist to participate at these festivals. Her interpretations of Neapolitan popular songs were collected in the compilation Anna German presenta “I classici della musica napoletana” (Anna German presents “Classics of Neapolitan Music”) of the same year. The cover depicts German superimposed on a classical photo of the Gulf of Neaples with the emblematic Vesuvius6 in the background:

Germans first compilation of Neapolitan songs Anna German presenta “I classici della musica napoletana” (Anna German presents “Classics of Neapolitan Music”) (CDI, 1967)

Neapolitan music will constitute a recurrent mode of reception of Italian music in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s both by VIA and Estrada artists, and German seems to have given a fundamental impulse to that and Soviet-Italian musical relationships. A unique element for German is her multicultural (self-)representation. Born in the USSR, she identified herself as Polish. In Italy, she was presented and perceived as a Polish artist, but as a particularly cosmopolitan one (Fagiuoli 1967: 75). Her Soviet reception oscillated between othering to appropriation: on her numerous Melodiia records from 1965 onwards, German’s ‘Polishness’ is always explicitly indicated on the sleeve. Reprinting the repertoire of this cosmopolitan artist, the Soviet popular music scene could position itself within a particularly convenient frame: Melodiia could ‘use’ the star of an allied country like Poland as a vehicle to release Western music. This resulted in 1975 in an act of explicit cultural appropriation: the asteroid 2519 discovered by Tamara Smirnova received the name ‘Annagerman’. German was the second artist to be Sovietised; the name of Robertino Loreti was already shining in the stars.

The Singer of the Stars

Roberto Loreti was the first Italian singer to experience an enormous success in the Soviet Union which lasts until today (Loreti 2013). He was an interpreter of the canzone tradition represented in the 1950s by Domenico Modugno and Claudio Villa, but he started his career when he was a boy. This element made him a more accessible and appealing figure. His pseudonym Robertino (‘little Roberto’) played a fundamental role in the perception of his image in the Soviet Union.

Loreti grew up in a poor family in post-war Rome. While he was working in a bakery to help his family, his voice was noticed by Danish musician and manager Sejr Volmer-Sørensen, who gave him a contract. In 1962, he toured the United States; after participating in the Sanremo Festival in 1964, Robertino was at the peak of his world success. In 1967 Loreti participated at the Festival di Napoli (the same one which German attended). Robertino’s struggle against poverty with the help of his natural talent in Post-War Italy was an example of the “tragic beauty of the everyday” (Dumančić 2020: 220) of Neorealist films. It is no coincidence that this point is stressed on the biographical note on Melodiia’s Robertino Loretti (misspelled) from 1963:

His peculiar boyish voice, the heartfelt warmth of his interpretations conquered the hearts of many music fans far beyond the boundaries of Italy. Robertino was born […] in a plasterer’s large family […]. The boy’s musical talent revealed itself extremely early, but his family lived in poverty and Robertino, instead of making music, had to earn money. (Loreti 1963)

The cover of Robertino’s first LP7 in the USSR already stressed the vitality expressed in this biographical note:

Loreti’s first LP in the Soviet Union Poet Robertino Loreti (Robertino Loreti sings, 1962, Akkord)

In 1963, while orbiting earth on a space mission, Valentina Tereshkova was asked by the radio station how she was. She replied: “It’s so unusually quiet here. Let me hear Robertino Lore[t]i’s voice” (Nikitina 2014). Tereshkova’s words were a performative speech act: the perlocutionary function of her illocutionary act led to Loreti’s canonisation in Soviet space mythology as zvezdnyi pevets (The Singer of Stars). This act of cultural appropriation, which stands alone in the history of the Soviet reception of Italian music, is important: the reception of Loreti’s ‘Italianness’, perceived as the expression of an innocent vitality in a country devastated by war, led to a cultural recodification of the artist. Robertino’s Sovietisation was part of a chain of events. In 1961, Gina Lollobrigida – besides Sofia Loren the most important Italian actress and an undisputed sex symbol in the Italian collective consciousness of the 1960s – met Iurii Gagarin in Moscow with a delegation of journalists and kissed him on the cheek, immediately leading to gossip and contributing to the intensification of his image as a pop icon as an attractive lover and gentleman (Jenks 2012: 205-209).

Robertino will be forever remembered as ‘The Singer of Stars’. In 1989, when he was invited to tour the Soviet Union, his arrival in Leningrad at the Moskovskii Vokzal was greeted by a huge number of fans, who wanted to carry him on their shoulder directly to the concert venue, not allowing him to go to the hotel first (Raffaini 2013: 12:39-13:47).

How an Italian Invented the VIAs: Marino Marini

The 1960s marked the emergence of Soviet VIAs. The Italian musician Marino Marini played a vital role in this. Marini studied violin and composition at the conservatory in Rome but became a significant innovator in the Italian popular music scene. On his first trip to the United States in 1949 he discovered jazz and be-bop. Back in Italy, Marini began to reinterpret Italian and Neapolitan popular songs in a jazzy style and covered international works from renowned jazz artists (Zampa 1990: 1004-1005; Maiotti 2010: 52-75). Jazz increased the musical and instrumental complexity of Marini’s music and shifted the focus from the singing of a soloist accompanied by musicians to a fully vocal and instrumental ensemble, a quartet whose every member could simultaneously sing and play. This innovation coexisted with traditional Estrada lyrics and thematically the songs composed by Marini were just like Neapolitan and Italian canzone in dealing with love, emotion and life. At the same time, the aesthetic self-staging of Marini’s quartet was traditional and popular; they all usually wore tuxedos or were elegantly dressed and had short hair, giving the unified, organic appearance typical for beat bands (primarily The Beatles). Beat bands had a quite homogenic aesthetic: they usually performed and staged themselves as a whole, as a sort of ‘collective body’ in which its members were individually visible, but each is equally important. This aspect can also be seen in Marini’s quartet:

Marini’s Calcutta (Io parto per Calcutta)/Non sei mai stata così bella (Durium 1961). The band’s self-representation stresses a particular organicity and anticipates the aesthetic used by Poiushchie gitary in the Soviet Union

This compromise between musical-technical progression and lyrical-aesthetical conservation did not go unnoticed behind the Iron Curtain.8 Gorovets covered three songs in Russian on lyrics written by the musician and poet Iurii Tseitling: “Non sei mai stata così bella” (“You Have Never Been So Beautiful”, translated as “Nu, chto?” – “So, What?”) in 1963 and “Caterina” (translated as “Katarina”) and “Ti regalo la luna” (“I’ll Give You the Moon”, translated as “Ia dostanu lunu”) in 1965. And the first volume of Melodiia’s Muzykal’nyi kaleidoskop (Musical Kaleidoscope, 1964), a series of records dedicated to foreign Estrada, contained “Non sei mai stata così bella”. On another compilation of the same year, Zarubezhnye artisty estrady – gosti Moskvy (1962-1963 gg.) [Foreign Estrada Artists – Guests of Moscow (1962-1963)], are two other songs: “Ho la testa come un pallone” (“My Head is Exploding”, translated as “Moia golova kruzhitsia”) and a song listed as “Utrenniaia liubov’”9. On this record, Marini’s band is described as ‘vokal’no-instrumental’nyi kvartet’ (‘vocal-instrumental quartet’), putting the focus on the technical and musical innovations Marini brought to Europe from America. Melodiia attempts to classify a new way of making music. If it is true that the term VIA was used the first time in 1966 in relation to the Leningrad band Poiushchie gitary10 (The Singing Guitars) or to Avangard from Donetsk11, it is also true that Marini’s band seems to be the only one labeled by Melodiia with a similar term in the first half of the 1960s.

In 1962, 1964 and 1966, Marini toured the Soviet Union. His last tour led to the formation of PG. The group’s nucleus was Anatolii Vasil’ev, a graduate student from the Leningrad Conservatory, and Evgenii Bronevitskii, Sergei Lavrovskii and Lev Vil’davskii (Mazurova 2016). In an interview, Bronevitskii revealed: “In 1965, Anatolii Vasil’ev, Liova Vil’davskii and I went to the concert of Marino Marini’s band. It is there we got excited […]. Every band member was playing an instrument and singing at the same time. There was nothing like that in the Soviet Estrada” (ibid.). Vasil’ev confirms this in a text he published on the internet (Vasil’ev 2012). PG bought Marini’s gear from his sound technician to achieve the same sound – and in particular the same reverberation (Bubennikova 1999: 82) – and started their career in 1966 with a concert at the Baltic State Technical University in Leningrad. PG worked intensively on instrumental complexity and technical sound, and a review of one of their first concerts shows their success: “The ensemble is highly professional. […] The artists […] perform simultaneously as instrumental players and vocalists” (Podberezskii 1968).

Vasil’ev and Bronevitskii did not mention Marini’s ‘Italianness’. Italian music in this case performed the function of a vector or a vehicle in the diffusion of something which affected different countries. The transition from the focus on a solo singer accompanied by musicians to a more organic vocal-instrumental band under the influence of jazz and beat was happening in different countries in Europe at the same time , and the Soviet scene was no exception. Although we observe an Italian musician coming from the West to the Soviet Union, we cannot speak of a mere Westernisation (Grabowsky 2012) or a provincial imitation (Bubennikova 1999: 90) here. Undoubtedly, PG wanted to imitate Marini’s sound. This does not mean, however, that their imitation is more provincial than Marini’s imitation of American jazz or of his light beat influences. Such musical ideas and experimentations were circulating throughout Europe, and it is not clear why the Soviet Union should be an imitation and other countries not.

On the online music forum Na zavalinke, a user posted a lo-fi live rendition of Gorovets’ “Nu, chto?” from a concert of the VIA in December 196612 (VIA Poiushchie gitary 1966). This cover shows PG’s approach in reinterpreting Estrada music. The VIA substituted the main melody, played by brass in Gorovets’ cover, with a electric guitar with strong reverb, recalling not only Marini but also The Beatles, and thus ‘beatising’ a Russian adaptation of a foreign Estrada song, taking it musically one step further than Gorovets. This lets us assume that PG knew The Beatles, although they never covered them in the 1960s13. PG’s interest in ‘beatising’ classic Estrada songs can also be seen in “Pesenka velosipedistov” (“The Cyclists’ Little Song”), a cover of Riccardo Del Turco’s “Uno tranquillo” (“A Quiet Man”, 1967). Del Turco was a classical Estrada artist; his music and image were even more traditional than Marini’s (Del Turco 1967). PG’s cover (in Russian with lyrics by Pavel Vatnik) is rearranged in a pop-rock style; and it was adapted to the Beatlesian paradigm – so that all members of the band could simultaneously sing and play – as their live performance for Soviet television shows (VIA Poiushchie gitary 1969b: 21:44-24:03).

PG’s reinterpretation was influenced by “Suddenly You Love Me”, a cover of Del Turco made by the British band The Tremeloes in 1968. “Uno tranquillo” became famous everywhere in Europe immediately after its release: different covers appeared in different languages almost simultaneously14. Thus, “Pesenka velosipedistov” reveals PG’s wish to position themselves in the broader European musical and cultural context of the time. Their cover was so successful that Gorovets re-covered the song immediately after them (“Etot mir” – This World, 1969)15. The main role played by Italian music in the formation of PG is thus again that of a ‘filter’ and a vehicle of diffusion, a sort of favourite ‘ambassador’ of modern popular music. Artists from other Western countries were not allowed to tour the Soviet Union, but some Italians could, given Italy’s particular position in Soviet-Western relations and that Italian musical traditions had already been made popular by German, Gorovets and Magomaev.

From the Appennini to Moscow: Gianni Morandi

German, Gorovets and Magomaev spread Italian and Neapolitan music tradition(s); Robertino became a part of the Soviet cosmic discourse, and Marini’s sound encouraged the VIA phenomenon. Another artist, Gianni Morandi, became famous in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to his self-representation as a typically Italian, polite, simple and gentle boy16, but with a political element particularly favourable to Soviet culture. His third LP Gianni Tre (Gianni Three) marks the beginning of Morandi’s Soviet reception:

Morandi’s Gianni Tre (RCA, 1966) was the first album of the Italian artist to be received in the Soviet Union

Morandi rose quickly in popularity. Melodiia released the original versions of three songs from the LP. “Il mondo nei tuoi occhi” (“The World in Your Eyes”) appeared on the eighth volume of Muzykal’nyi kaleidoskop (Musical Kaleidoscope, 1966), translated as “Moia pesnia” (“My Song”); “Tu che m’hai preso il cuor” (“You Who Stole My Heart”) appeared on the fourth volume of Vsem, kto liubit pesniu (To All Who Love Songs, 1969) as “Znakomaia Melodiia” (“Familiar Melody”); in the same year, “Si fa sera” (“Evening Falls”) appeared on the sixth issue of the same compilation (correctly translated as “Kogda prikhodit vecher”).

We are not dealing here with a simple reception of Italian Estrada. Italy plays the role of a musical ‘ambassador’ which lets international tunes flow into the USSR. “Si fa sera” was written by Marcello De Martino (music) and Antonio Amurri (lyrics) for Morandi, but “Tu che m’hai preso il cuor” and “Il mondo nei tuoi occhi” are covers. The first is an Italian adaptation by Mario Panzeri and Giuseppe Rastelli of the aria “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (“Yours Is My Whole Heart”) from Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles, 1929) an operetta with music by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár and a libretto by Fritz-Löhner-Beda and Ludwig Herzer. On the fourth issue of To All Who Love Songs, the song is credited as written by Lehár, Panzeri and Rastelli, showing that the people behind Melodiia were aware that they were importing a transnational number and a popular adaptation of a classical piece.

“Il mondo nei tuoi occhi” has a more complex history. The original “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” was first recorded as a demo by Dionne Warwick in 1963. The version which entered the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1964 was by Lou Johnson, a soul singer from New York. But neither Johnson nor Warwick wrote the song, which was composed by Burt Bacharach to words by Hal David. It was this version which made a breakthrough in Europe in 1964 and the one Sergio Bardotti and Giuseppe Cassia adapted into Italian for Morandi. A cover by Eddy Mitchell in French (“Toujours un coin qui me rappelle”) and an interpretation by Sandie Shaw in Italian followed respectively in 1965 and 1967.

Morandi is indicated as the performer of the song on Melodiia’s LP, while the composers are indicated with two enigmatic names: Tolisko (music) and Zheral’ (lyrics). It is impossible to discover who these people were and whether they really existed. As “Il mondo nei tuoi occhi” came to the Soviet Union, it was not simply an Italian artist’s voice, but an American-European hit, a ‘glocal’ song. It is impossible to find who bought the rights (if ever) of Morandi’s song, but I argue that Melodiia chose his cover for three reasons. First, to have songs from different countries on the LP without any one being repeated. Second, because Morandi was Italian. Third, because in 1965 Morandi came to Moscow for the first time as part of the international festival of Italian music Cantagiro held at the Zelenyi Teatr in Gorky Park. Cantagiro was an itinerant music festival started in 1962 by the music manager Ezio Radaelli who aimed to promote Italian popular music in Italy and abroad (Bruccoleri 1996: 16-23).

It was there that Morandi sang “C’era un ragazzo” (“There Was a Boy”) for the first time. With this song, Melodiia had the possibility to add to its popular music catalogue a number which fitted Soviet ideology with its political message. This cultural appropriation canonised Morandi in the USSR as a strongly political singer (which he actually never was), particularly important because he came from a communist family. In 1966, the guitarist and songwriter Mauro Lusini submitted this song in English against the war in Vietnam to Franco Migliacci, Morandi’s producer and lyricist. Translating Lusini’s lyrics to Italian, Migliacci removed the original explicit anti-American verses, messages to deserters and pacifist slogans and stressed the feeling of piety towards a young soldier who died in war (De Grassi 2002: 65). Morandi wanted at any cost to sing the song instead of Lusini. Migliacci and Ennio Melis, the director of RCA (Morandi’s label), were initially skeptical, because Morandi had never sung anything political (Morandi 2006: 23). However, they thought the time was right to ‘renew’ the singer’s image, exploring the commercial possibilities of youth’s non-conformism in the 1960s (De Grassi 2002: 66).

While some sectors of the youth press were favourable towards the song, left-wing intellectuals rejected it, judging it as not authentic enough (ibid.; Olenina 1968: 14), Italian State Radio and Television forced Morandi and Migliacci to change the verses mentioning the war in Vietnam so as not to offend the United States which played a significant role in Italy’s Atlanticist foreign politics; but Morandi sang the song in its original version on his first performance on TV, and the international success of the song permitted him to continue singing the original lyrics (Morandi 2006: 24; Bacca 2021). Again, the song appeared in many different covers in different languages17 (CCG 2005) including PG’s “Byl odin paren’” (“There Was a Boy”) in 1968 on Tatiana Sashko’s translation.18 Here, we see the reception of an Italian song which was part of a broader phenomenon, and the USSR positioning itself in this panorama with its ‘own’ cover. “Byl odin paren’” quickly became one of the most famous songs of the VIA and of all of Morandi’s songs in the USSR. The recording of the performance of “Byl odin paren’” for the Leningradskoe televidenie in 1969 begins with a visual statement of musical and cultural self-positioning:

The beginning arpeggio of “Byl odin paren’”

Eko guitars were manufactured in Italy. The company, founded in 1959, produced instruments for Italian beat bands and even for The Beatles and collaborated with the British company Vox in manufacturing the amplifiers used by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Showing an Eko guitar, PG positioned themselves in the tradition of European beat and referred to the country of origin of the song they were covering. The aesthetic of the performance is Beatlesian. The perfectly geometrical disposition of the VIA’s members (and of their instrument) on stage, all of them dressed alike, stresses the bands’ unity: