Curtains down: “once upon a time”’s Sanremo Festival

Author Stefania Clerici contributor
Amount of Images 6 Immagini
Calendar 04/02/2020
Time passed Tempo di lettura 5 min

From 4 to 8 February TV, radio and all media stop to make way for the music of the Sanremo Festival. This year’s edition will be the 70th, hosted by the presenter Amadeus and already at the center of chatter and controversy before it even begins… Waiting for the show to start, here is our playlist of songs that have made its history and a few curiosities about its past.


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From Capannina to Eurovision

Yes, the very same Capannina. Not everyone knows that the first Italian music festival took place in 1948 in Versilia. It was only in 1951 that it moved to Sanremo, where for the first few years it was set up in the casino’s party hall, before finally landing in the Ariston Theatre, which has always hosted the festival (with the exception of 1990 when the Festival moved to the Palafiori di Valle Armea).

A Million Steps

The festival came from one of Angelo Nicola Amato and Angelo Nizza’s ideas: the audience loved it, and in a short time it became one of the most awaited and followed events both in Italy and throughout Europe, so much so that in 1956 the Eurovision Song Contest was inspired by the Sanremo festival.

The first festival was presented by Nunzio Filogamo; that year, Nilla Pizzi won with the song Grazie dei fiori. The first three Sanremos were broadcasted on the radio, and the first live television broadcast, in black and white, was in 1955; in 1977 the first “color” Festival was broadcast in Italy (it had already been available from 1973 abroad, because PAL technology arrived in Italy 10 years late).

At the time the Festival was quite different from what it is today, both for production and organization needs.

Playback or not playback. That is the question.

Until 1971 the competing songs were performed by two singers on different evenings, only in 1972 the artist and the competing song became an inseparable pair. Even the orchestra was included only at the end of the 80’s: before that, songs were performed on a recorded basis or, even worse, they were in playback for television needs; speaking of which, Bobby Solo sang Una lacrima sul viso in playback, which was still banned in 1964, and he was disqualified for doing so.

Emblematic in this sense was Vasco Rossi’s protest when, during his 1983 performance – when playback was mandatoryhe left the stage before the end of Vita spericolata, leaving the recording to play alone without him on stage. Precisely for this reason regulation has required live performances since 1990, banning playback once again.

Playback was not mandatory, however, for guests, who were often asked to pretend singing: in 1984 Queen landed in Sanremo to present Radio Ga Ga, but the imposition of playback didn’t please Freddy Mercury who, during the performance, decided to reveal the trick by removing the microphone from his mouth several times.

Speaking of guests, we should know that two giants of Italian music, Baglioni and Venditti, never took part in the competition: in 1985 Questo piccolo grande amore was very popular but Baglioni himself was not at the festival; just like Venditti in 2000.

A stage, a protest

In 1961 Adriano Celentano sang 24 mila baci and, in protest, he turned his back to the audience during his performance; in 1978 Rino Gaetano and his Gianna caused a sensation because for the first time the word “sex” was pronounced in a song at the Festival. But the greatest shock came in 1986, when Loredana Bertè appeared on stage with a fake pregnant belly, wanting to denounce women’s conditions.

Precisely because it is not just a mere Festival, but a TV show which reflects many aspects o Italian society, offering a 360 degrees cross-section of contemporary life, even celebrities on stage, both guests and presenters, get people talking, much like the passionate kiss between Roberto Benigni and Olimpia Carlisi in 1980, a kiss that became a leitmotiv for Benigni’s guests on TV. Or Pippo Baudo, who interrupted the show in 1955 to foil an attempted suicide when a man threatened to jump from the gallery of the Theatre.

Those on stage get people talking, but so do the songs: often at the heart of debates and, strange to say, even censored at times: among the most famous cases that of Massimo Troisi, who in 1981 refused to participate as a guest because the organizers asked him not to talk about topics considered taboo such as religion, politics and an earthquake that had recently struck; or that of Lucio Dalla, who in 1971 was forced to change his piece in the title and text: from Gesù bambino (Baby Jesus), considered too blasphemous, to 4/3/1943.

Here are a few treats for those fond of statistics and numbers:

The youngest ever winner was Gigliola Cinquetti who was 16 when the song Non ho l’età triumphed in 1961, while the oldest artist to win was the then 67-year-old Roberto Vecchioni in 2011.

In 1987 the highest ever share (68,71%) was registered, whereas the lowest level of share (36,56%) came in 2008. The presenter who has hosted the Sanremo festival the most is Pippo Baudo, who has taken centre stage 13 times, the first in 1968 and the last in 2008. Mike Bongiorno is second with 11 times, Nunzio Filogamo third with 5 times.

Domenico Modugno and Claudio Villa won the most Sanremo Festivals, obtaining four first places apiece: Domenico Modugno won first place in 1958 with the song Nel blu dipinto di blu, in 1959 with Piove, in 1962 with Addio… addio… (a song performed with Claudio Villa) and his fourth victory, in 1966, with Dio, come ti amo. Claudio Villa, instead, won in 1955 with Buongiorno tristezza, in 1957 with Corde della mia chitarra, in 1962 with Addio… addio… and in 1967 with Non pensare a me with Iva Zanicchi.

Toto Cotugno finished second more than anyone else for a total of 6 times: in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and in 2005 with Annalisa Minetti. Peppino di Di Capri and Milva have participated more than anyone: 15 times! Al Bano is second with 14 times (alone or with his ex-wife Romina Power).

If these lines weren’t enough to take you back among the songs that have made the history of Ariston theatre – especially of Italian music – we made a selection in a playlist on Spotify. Now, headphones on.


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