Sanremo, all one word, in Paradise in spite of the Saint. And one word is really enough: seven letters like the seven musical notes. While Festival has one more: eight like the musical scale. Destiny written on the stave for the city of flowers, since 1951: a tradition and social phenomenon, the expression of an Italy that lived through the historical phases of the post-war rebirth with optimism and looking to the boom with enthusiasm, then folded again with the protests and the Years of Lead, twisted up in the crisis and disenchanted in Reagan hedonism dressed in the Italian flag, the illusion of magnificent and progressive fortune...as far as the disillusionment of the economic slowdown, the COVID-19 pandemic and the heavy fallout from globalization and the war in Ukraine.
The 2023 edition is the fourth time for Amedeo Umberto Rita Sebastiani, who cut three quarters of his birth name to acquire a sheen of modernity with the very classic stage name Amadeus: a homage to Mozart (who, however, signed off with Amadé or Amedeo in Italian) just to make it clear that he wasn’t lacking in ambition, more than just a charming Latinism. A virtuoso of the music consoles in the 1980s clubs and bars, from a youthful DJ he matured and cut his teeth to become a successful and valued TV presenter and made his mark as outstanding artistic director of the Italian Song Festival par excellence. He spelled out the names of those selected for the competition this February as if proclaiming the names of the Nobel prize winners and hit the mark by choosing the 1.30 pm edition of TG1 news on December 4, earning, in addition to the audience share, a barrage of more than 80,000 tweets. Sign of the times. Beyond the TV of the past and the live shows to come in February, Sanremo is an event that feeds on the languages of modernity and lives on beyond the evenings that represent at once the landing place and the springboard for the whole media machine that it feeds and drains.
The 2023 edition is the fourth time for Amedeo Umberto Rita Sebastiani, who cut three quarters of his birth name to acquire a sheen of modernity with the very classic stage name Amadeus: a homage to Mozart (who, however, signed off with Amadé or, Italian) just to make it clear that he wasn’t lacking in ambition, more than just a charming Latinism
Yet the Festival was born out of tradition on the one hand, and beyond tradition on the other. After the Second World War, Italy wanted to move on; it could no longer be satisfied with the perhaps anachronistic ferments of the songs in dialect, which nevertheless had peaks of notoriety that had rendered them veritable national artistic manifestos. 'O sole mio was still a kind of anthem of Italy abroad, at least until Domenico Modugno taught the world to Volare in the blue, precisely from the stage of Sanremo.
The idea for the first edition in 1951 was based on an event organized in Versilia in 1949 and transplanted to the Ligurian Riviera deliberately out of season, in winter, with the aim of creating a new attraction rather than amplifying an attraction that already existed. This had already occurred with cycling for the classic Milan-Sanremo race, ignited by the eternal dualism between Fausto Coppi (winner in the 1946, 1948 and 1949 editions) and Gino Bartali (1947 and 1950), and the vast popularity of the race caused all the tourist venues to reopen to welcome thousands of people and the wealthy bourgeoisie who could afford both holidays and travel to cultivate their passion for sport.
The idea for the first edition in 1951 was based on an event organized in Versilia in 1949 and transplanted to the Ligurian Riviera deliberately out of season, in winter, with the aim of creating a new attraction rather than amplifying an attraction that already existed.
The limits of the formula chosen for the Festival, presented by Nunzio Filogamo who addressed his “friends near and far” on the radio, were immediately evident. The first was the small number of competitors, with just three artists: Nilla Pizzi (winner with Grazie dei fior), the Duo Fasano and Achille Togliani, performing 20 totally new tracks. The second was the audience, sitting at the tables where they dined and talked during the performances, even with a certain snobbery deriving from being used to events deemed culturally more elevated. The songs, however, hit the mark: tried-and-tested and catchy melodies, simple lyrics that were easy to memorize and Italians began to hum the tunes as well as talk about the event. And word of mouth works.
The following year, there were five competitors, but Nilla Pizzi won again with Vola colomba (expression of nostalgia for Trieste that was still outside national borders) and also finished second with Papaveri e papere (suspected of being a mockery of political notables) and third with Una donna prega: a unique case in the history of the Festival. While the following year, Sanremo introduced the double orchestra with Cinico Angelini and Armando Trovajoli, the fifth edition was the first televised event, with the final even in Eurovision. The climate of optimism and dated and dull good-naturedness was swept away in 1958 with a revolutionary gesture, arms wide open, and the boundless energy of a song outside the box, Nel blu dipinto di blu. It was the year of Modugno who became the global ‘Mister Volare’, overshadowing the dioscuro Johnny Dorelli, who sang right alongside him.
The following year, there were five competitors, but Nilla Pizzi won again with Vola colomba (expression of nostalgia for Trieste that was still outside national borders) and also finished second with Papaveri e papere (suspected of being a mockery of political notables) and third with Una donna prega: a unique case in the history of the Festival.
The grains of tradition were ground to dust by the roaring years of aggressive economic growth: fashions changed, rock and pop together shunned folk and sugary melodies. In the 1960s, young people had another vision of the world: they sang it at the matusa (old fogies). It was the time of the ‘screamers’. Tarantism suffering Adriano Celentano caused a scandal by singing with his back to the audience and later suffered the slight of going out of the contest immediately with Il ragazzo della via Gluck; the shocking and super-talented Mina floated her Mille bolle blu but as early as 1961, cut all ties with Sanremo; Antonio Ciacci created his very own Elvis with the name Little Tony. Singer-songwriting is just around the corner, with free verse or rhyme, thanks to Lucio Dalla (third in 1971 with 4/3/43), and Luigi Tenco, who in 1967 couldn't take the rejection of his little masterpiece Ciao amore ciao sung in duet with Dalida and shot himself in his hotel, “an act of protest against an audience that sends Io, tu e le rose to the final,” as he wrote in his final note.
Revelations and timeless classics, different languages and content, with the presumption of being the showcase of the Italian song, while perhaps it is actually the showcase of songs in Italian, Sanremo roars round the track of entertainment, always claiming pole position. Sixteen editions are decided and designed by the host par excellence, Gianni Ravera. A silver fox with the birth name of Stalin, but during the years of fascism his parents had been forced to opt for a "normal" name, Giandomenico; but the spirit remained of the sole man in command (only twice did he have to bow to co-direction) and it was he who brought Louis Armstrong and Steve Wonder to Sanremo, who got the potential of Iva Zanicchi (record woman: three wins, like none other, and ten participations), who launched the sixteen-year-old Gigliola Cinquetti who in 1964 really was not old enough, who discovered the boy of today Eros Ramazzotti, who triumphed in 1986 two years after winning best newcomer, and who spotted the talent of Zucchero Fornaciari, who instead was rejected second-last in 1982, 1985 and 1986, but launched an amazing career. On the other hand, a future huge star of sold-out stadiums, Vasco Rossi, having already come last in 1982, due to polemics in 1983, left the stage before the end of his song, revealing the use of playback. In 1989, Jovanotti, from the Cecchetto school, was fifth in the Champions section with the pop rap Vasco. We all know where he is now.
In 1977, the Festival moved from the Casino to the Ariston Theater, which at least in name aspired to host truly the best; the new temple of a musical show syncopated to the beat of the changing times. The colors of society turned dark but in the meantime the TV was in color. The record companies had boycotted the Festival two years earlier and prevented the big players under contract from participating (they would do it again in 2004, leaving the stage to names unfamiliar to the majority).
The colors of society turned dark but in the meantime the TV was in color. The record companies had boycotted the Festival two years earlier and prevented the big players under contract from participating, they would do it again in 2004, leaving the stage to names unfamiliar to the majority
Rino Gaetano shook up the great and good with the audacious Gianna in which he let the word sesso (sex) out of the bag; newcomer Anna Oxa, also in 1978, tickled the prudes with an androgynous punk look, but with Un’emozione da poco got everyone on board, though she didn’t win (first place went to Matia Bazar; Anna would only win in 1999, at the age of 39). Host Mike Bongiorno (eleven editions from 1963 to 1997) competed with his rival Pippo Baudo, presenter par excellence of music-based Italian TV and with the added bonus of being a modest musician himself, playing the piano well and writing theme songs and ditties that were not unforgettable but still successful, and who presented no less than thirteen editions from 1968 to 2008, including the more ‘national-popular’ ones (as he described himself live in unconcealed controversy with RAI television).
In the 1980s, however, there were frequent injections of internationality, but never quite like in 1968, when a sacred jazz god such as Louis Armstrong was asked to sing Mi va di canta in Italian and Pippo Baudo cut his time because he felt like giving a recital (or had been told he had to): the guests are the spearheads of the star system, expressions of successes that bounce around on radio and TV, which cost but pay off in terms of audience and advertising revenue ( Ray Charles, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Elton John, Simply Red). And whilst Queen with Freddie Mercury couldn't hide the annoyance of having to sing in playback (the first to do so was Bobby Solo in 1963, but because he was suffering a nasty hoarse voice), whilst there were no repeats of director Adriano Aragozzini's decision to entrust the (embarrassing) presentation to four bewildered offspring of more famous parents (Rosita Celentano, Paola Dominguin, Danny Queen and Gianmarco Tognazzi in 1989), the Sanremo microphone became a coveted target for comedians including the irrepressible Roberto Benigni (1980), the Wonder Trio Lopez- Solenghi-Marchesini, and even Beppe Grillo, back when one star was enough and the other four would light up long after the temporary exile from RAI over a joke about the pickpocketing socialists on a trip to Beijing. From time to time – as in 1987 – impromptu formulas have proved successful, such as the trio formed by Gianni Morandi, Enrico Ruggeri and Umberto Tozzi who gave it their all belting out Si può dare di più and wpn first place in the condominium. The ‘Reuccio’ (proud king), Claudio Villa, (45 million records sold in his career), winner in 1955, 1957, 1962 and 1967, participated for the last time in 1986: he represented a world that no longer existed, but was awarded the most emotional applause when Baudo announced on February 7 his sudden death right in the middle the Festival.
The real, alleged, artificial or intentional scandal at Sanremo is like the icing on a millefeuille cake that desperate need of a bit of flavor. Patsy Kensit’s cheeky shoulder strap slip in 1987 was the stuff of school girls compared to the “butterfly” that escaped through a gap in the more-than-thigh-high split in the dress worn by the dazzling Belen Rodriguez
The real, alleged, artificial or intentional scandal at Sanremo is like the icing on a millefeuille cake that desperate need of a bit of flavor. Patsy Kensit’s cheeky shoulder strap slip in 1987 was the stuff of school girls compared to the “butterfly” that escaped through a gap in the more-than-thigh-high split in the dress worn by the dazzling Belen Rodriguez as she descended the legendary staircase in 2002, the authentic femme fatale (and forbidden desire of a few million Italians, whose number increased after that spectacle). The memory of Loredana Bertè's fake baby bump in 1986 paled into insignificance. But even Pippo Baudo really did transform into Superpippo and in 1985 he rushed to the balcony to dissuade an unemployed man from throwing himself into the stalls in protest, with dubious authenticity and an audience of 17 million. The forgotten Franco Fanigliulo was censored in 1979 because his song A me mi piace vivere alla grande (I live living it big) hinted at using cocaine. The voting system using Totip betting slips (1984) led to Pupo's declarations (in 1992) that he had bought fourth place by investing 75 million (lire) in bets. Fate would have it – cynically and unfairly – that Toto Cutugno took the place of honor only once in 1980, despite the success of his mega hits. This throne was shared Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, the prince of pickles [for his ads for Saclà] and regular guest from his home in Switzerland on ‘Quelli che il calcio’ presented by Fabio Fazio, whose moment of glory came in the 2010 edition (the exile of the male members of the former Royal House had been revoked), and incredibly he even came second with the sweetish and slightly dodgy Italia amore mio together with Pupo and Luca Canonici. And, in very recent times, Mahmood's victory in 2019, attributed by the quality judging panel and press room, reversing the popular vote, did not go down well with Ultimo at all; while, in edition number 70, Morgan argued with Bugo live, changing the song to humiliate him and causing him to leave the stage. In 2021, Amadeus rejected Morgan in favor of Bugo, but he could afford to do so, given his aura of untouchable.
The lucky catchphrase, ‘Sanremo è sempre Sanremo’ (Sanremo is always Sanremo) best expresses without actually saying anything the essence of the Festival of Italian Song: a glittering container not necessarily full of content, stars and starlets, meteors and black holes, champions and second-raters, a springboard for success and launches into the void, new voices and recycled voices, unforgettable songs and forgettable songs
The lucky catchphrase, ‘Sanremo è sempre Sanremo’ (Sanremo is always Sanremo) best expresses without actually saying anything the essence of the Festival of Italian Song: a glittering container not necessarily full of content (stars and starlets, meteors and black holes, champions and second-raters, a springboard for success and launches into the void, new voices and recycled voices, unforgettable songs and forgettable songs), a tradition that many consider outdated and others a distinctive feature in our way of being and singing because we are still Italian, after all. Loved or hated, even drowned in formal indifference, but always followed by millions. And audiences have multiplied with the dictatorship of social networks and the fresh wind of youth blown at the hand of Amadeus with the flavorful transmedia mix of TV, radio, streaming, play on demand, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, a press room with an energy and hormonal charge not even seen for the first man on the moon, journalists, questioners, keyboard philosophers, followers, idlers and influencers to snatch scoops and snippets and to spice and salt the broth of generalist and generalized culture. Quality and marketability in variable doses, on two sides of a wavering balance, with record companies playing their game, in any case an unmissable event of national-popular culture that deludes itself that it is truly international and sometimes even succeeds, as with Måneskin, pulled out of the hat by the magician, himself later dumbfounded by their amazing performance.
Whether or not it is a Festival of Kitsch as a merciless Financial Times quashed it a few years ago, the new Sanremo post face-lift, gym, botox and scientific enhancement seduces across the board, even the snobs who don't follow it on principle, including singers (songwriters who loathed it) and audiences (people who are liked don't like it). Amadeus, the DJ with the bow tie, is the architect of an almost Gattopardesque disruption of the festival structure, which remains the same in terms of liturgy but with an intoxicating and seductive modern edge, as if Sanremo, by expanding and spreading beyond the canonical evenings, had become a long, fast-paced and stunning video clip. Maybe Sono solo canzonette (they’re just little songs), maybe it's Tanto per canta’ (just a singalong), but not the event: the event is a serious matter, built in the laboratory, mixed with the care of the apothecary, D'Annunziesque in imaginativeness and boldly alchemical, with each piece carefully placed on the chessboard of entertainment. Chiara Ferragni will drag along her millions of followers, who will be added to the fans of the new songwriters born computerized and weaned on Android, who summon them with a snap of the fingers and a touch of the screen. Sweet and sassy – from one half of the Ferragnez couple to Francesca Fagnani, an experienced novice – with Gianni Morandi, who famously tore up his identity card in the 1960s, selected artists of intrinsic quality and marketability with television and above all social media presence. Singers all already promoted by the selector-good presenter to the rank of 'Super guests’, so at the starting line the 22 + 3 (skimmed from 300 proposals with some painful exclusions) all feel part of the same project, like the Cugini di Campagna, who could be the grandparents of Elodie and Madame, the return of sisters Paola and Chiara, and so we could go on. Indeed, so we sing on. Sanremo: 73 years of everything and more, for how we were, for how we are, for how we will be.
11 febbraio 2023
Female pride, image and message, non-conformism and striking looks. Chiara Ferragni on the Sanremo stage
10 febbraio 2023
Embroidered crystals, sparkle-effect dresses, jackets for him and for her and lots of black leather. Once again, for the second evening of Sanremo, the stage of the Ariston Theater is also a catwalk
10 febbraio 2023
For the 73rd edition of the Sanremo Festival, the trend is certainly classic (even a bit retro)