Born as Maria Maddalena Olivero in Saluzzo, Italy, she made her operatic debut in 1932 on radio in Turin radio singing Nino Cattozzo's (1886–1961) oratorio, I misteri dolorosi.
She performed widely and increasingly successfully until 1941, when she married and retired from performing. She returned to the stage ten years later, at the request of Francesco Cilea, who asked her to sing again the title role in his opera Adriana Lecouvreur.
She sang in Cherubini's Médée (in the Italian version)at the Dallas Opera in 1967 and in Kansas City in 1968. In 1975, Olivero made her début at the Metropolitan Opera in Tosca. Her last performances on stage were in March 1981 in the one-woman opera, La voix humaine by Poulenc, in Verona; her stage career ending at age 71, after spanning nearly 50 years. She continued to sing sacred music locally and, well into her eighties, made a recording of several arias. Recordings exist of many of her performances of both full operas, arias and scenes.
Olivero died at the Istituto Auxologico di Milano aged 104.