Circus Owner, Performer, Actress
By Raffaele De Ritis
The daughter of Riccardo Orfei, she was born in the family living trailer in 1931, in Codriopo, Italy. As a child, Moira was trained in all the basic circus disciplines. In 1960—without ever leaving the circus—she launched a movie career. Ultimately, she appeared in nearly forty films, including popular Italian comedies and a host of internationally successful Italian productions based on mythological themes, such as the Hercules, Atlas, and Samson series.
In 1961, she married the acrobatic dancer Walter Nones. A year later, they formed a company with the Austrian Swoboda sisters (of the Medrano Swoboda circus) and began a long career as circus owners and directors. A year after that, the Orfeis and the Swobodas parted ways. Moira and Walter went on to create their own Circo Moira Orfei, which quickly drew attention, both for the elegance of its productions and its infrastructures and, above all, for the high quality of its acts.
Moira and Walter launched the monumental Circus on Ice in 1969. It was easily the most sophisticated circus-on-ice show ever undertaken; it had both a circus ring and a skating rink, and the show included elaborate set changes, a huge variety of costumes, and an international cast of circus and variety megastars. During this period, Moira's elephant presentations made her a legend, while Walter became an excellent lion trainer.
In 1976, the circus split into two separate units: the traditional Circo Moira Orfei, and the circus-on-ice show. In the early 1980s, Moira and Walter began to produce other touring shows. They got exclusive rights to the Italian tours of the Moscow Circus and for the American ice show Holiday On Ice. Meanwhile, regular circus tours made Moira extremely popular in other Mediterranean countries. (In 1977, Moira's circus was in Iran when the Islamic revolution broke out, but they managed to return safely—if not without some difficulty—to Italy.)
In 1987, Walter and Moira produced the Moira+Mosca circus, which combined some of the best Soviet acts with Moira's Italian performers and animal acts. That same year, they produced a superb seventeen-tiger act with the help of the great trainer Jean Michon. The act was presented by Walter's brother, Massimiliano Nones, and became the first cage-act to win a Gold at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Moira's sons, Stefano and Lara, also won a Silver in Monte Carlo in 1999 with two acts: a double high-school, and a display of exotic animals that included a "" presentation of a giraffe, a rhinoceros, and antelopes with zebras.
Moira retired from performing in the late 1990s, but she did not cease from supervising every detail of her organization. Neither did she entirely disappear from the ring: she still greets her audience at the opening of each performance, and her entrance always prompts standing ovations and flower-throwing.
In recent years, Moira has appeared in a few screen comedies and has become a much sought-after guest on TV talk shows. With its large menagerie and classy productions, its fine orchestra and true corps-de-ballet—together with Moira's attention to detail and her booking some of the world's finest acts—Moira Orfei's circus is among the most respected in Europe.