It has been dismissed as immoral, outdated and reality TV kitsch. It has also been hailed as Italy’s national treasure, a song festival that captures the soul of the country each year.
Whether for the soaring melodies or the feuds, botched ballads and bad outfits, Italians delight in the annual five-day Sanremo Music Festival that began yesterday, a national pastime inspiring both nostalgia and derision.
The COVID-19 pandemic this year has made its mark — the orchestra, performers and presenters play without a live audience, while supermodel Naomi Campbell was forced to pull out due to travel complications.
However, AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has stepped in to provide some star power as a presenter on opening night, and the event — known to devotees and detractors alike as just “The Festival” — is again expected to draw in the viewers.
About 10 million Italians tune in each year to ogle the stars and delight in the inevitable controversies, whether accusations of lip-synching, plagiarism, celebrity feuds or wardrobe malfunctions.
Paolo Soddu, who coauthored a 2001 book on the festival, calls Sanremo a “national ritual,” a shared experience that reveals “the collective dream” of Italy.
“Whether you like it or not, it’s talked about,” he said. “Even if you hate it, you watch.”
The festival began in 1951 as a way to boost tourism in the northwestern seaside town of Sanremo, with state broadcaster RAI subsequently using the new medium of television to present fresh-faced singers crooning to a bourgeois audience in their evening best.
Today, it is more about offering up deliciously cringe-worthy moments — over-the-hill stars in black leather screeching pop melodies, singers unveiling new tattoos and jokes that fall flat.
Sanremo has hosted the Who’s Who of the country’s popular music over the decades, from Gino Paoli, Lucio Dalla and Mina to Lucio Battisti, Ornella Vanoni and Bobby Solo — even Andrea Bocelli.
One of the first to be catapulted to fame by the festival was Domenico Modugno in 1958, whose refrain Volare captured the zeitgeist of a jubilant Italy reveling in its post-war economic boom.
Although most of its singers are unknown to international audiences, Sanremo has welcomed over the years a smattering of foreign stars, from Shirley Bassey to Dusty Springfield and Sonny and Cher. Even Louis Armstrong was a contestant.
Uproar is habitual. Singers have broken social mores — Adriano Celentano showed his back to the audience in 1961 before launching into Elvis-like hip thrusts — and viewers have deemed many songs in bad taste, like one about euthanasia in 2010.
However, there have also been genuinely dark moments, notably in 1967 when singer Luigi Tenco shot himself in the head hours after his song Goodbye, Love, Goodbye — sung with then-girlfriend Dalida — was voted out.
In more recent decades, the festival’s kitsch quotient has skyrocketed, as befits the festival that inspired the Eurovision Song Contest, considered the pinnacle of camp.
Roberto Benigni, the Oscar-winning star of Life is Beautiful, made his onstage entrance as host one year atop a white horse; Dita von Teese performed a striptease inside an oversized martini glass, and an anti-fur pornstar, nude except for tiger body paint, stunned invited guest Playboy founder Hugh Hefner by jumping onstage.
Last year, rapper Achille Lauro unbuttoned a richly embroidered black velvet cloak to reveal a skintight, glittery and semi-transparent bodysuit — all intended, according to the platinum-blond, heavily tattooed performer, to mimic Saint Francis having stripped naked to renounce material wealth.
Established musical stars called the “Big” dominate performances, singing songs by Italian authors never before heard in public, but there are also spots for lesser known.
Winners are voted by juries of the public and journalists, as well as viewers at home.
This year’s festival weathered an early scandal, in which host Amadeus insisted the show would go on in front of an audience, unleashing a torrent of criticism, given that COVID-19 restrictions have canceled concerts, shows and festivals throughout Italy, putting scores of musicians, actors and others out of work.
Even the general manager of La Scala opera and the bishop of Sanremo weighed in before Italy’s minister of culture put his foot down, saying no public would be allowed.
Two-year-old Xu Haoyang (徐灝洋) has likely just months to live — but the only medicine that can help his rare genetic condition is not found anywhere in China and closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean that he cannot travel for treatment. Instead, his desperate father, Xu Wei (徐偉), has created a home laboratory to create a remedy for the boy himself. “I didn’t really have time to think about whether to do it or not. It had to be done,” the 30-year-old said from his DIY lab in an apartment building in southwestern Kunming. Haoyang has Menkes syndrome, a genetic disorder
ANGER OVER PARTNERSHIP: After Ukraine purchased drones from a Turkish company, Russia asked Turkey ‘to deal as seriously as possible’ with its concerns over helping Kiev A Ukrainian soldier was killed by pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, the government said on Friday, as the West accuses Moscow of a troop buildup near Ukraine. Kiev’s army has been battling fighters in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms across the border to support the separatists — claims that Moscow denies. Kiev’s military on Friday said that the separatists had targeted Ukrainian military positions with artillery and mortars. “As a result of hostilities, one serviceman was fatally wounded,”
BURNING, LOOTING: The demonstrators called for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to step down over failure to deliver infrastructure, among other complaints Solomon Islands police yesterday fired tear gas in the capital, Honiara, as crowds of protesters set fire to buildings, including a police station, and looted shops in an eruption of anger at the government, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported. The protest was led by people from the Pacific nation’s largest island, Malaita Province, about 120km from the capital. They were demanding that Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare step down over failure to deliver promised infrastructure among other complaints, RNZ said. The protest began peacefully, but most schools and businesses in Honiara were closed by the afternoon as crowds tried to enter the
Tour guide Lai Chi Phuc has been counting down the days until travelers return to the white-sand beaches and thick tropical jungle of Vietnam’s Phu Quoc, a once-poor fishing island pushing to be Asia’s next holiday hot spot as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease. Yesterday, about 200 South Koreans were to arrive on the island, which lies a few kilometers off Cambodia in the azure waters of the Gulf of Thailand, after a vaccine passport scheme started this month in Vietnam. Far from a lazy beach break, their stay promises to be a whirlwind of action and entertainment as they shuffle between a