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The festival di Sanremo: a true Italian tradition

It’s no secret that music is important to Italians. Singing is part of our own history and tradition. And we know how to celebrate our passion. Traditional Italian music has had, since the 1950s, a most prestigious event followed by the entire country: the Festival di Sanremo. 

Festival di Sanremo
The Teatro Ariston, where the Festival di Sanremo takes place.

The Festival di Sanremo is also known as Il Festival della Canzone Italiana, the festival of Italian music. It takes place at the famous theatre Ariston in Sanremo where, for a week Italian singers and performers propose original songs, written just for the occasion.

Entrepreneur Pier Busseti organized the first Festival di Sanremo. In 1951, radios broadcasted the show for the first time. Italians embraced the Festival straight away, and the love for its music and allure never quivered. During the Festival’s week, singers and stars walk Sanremo’s red carpet. Beautiful flowers from the region of Liguria surround the protagonists. All under the eyes of millions of Italians.

Nilla Pizzi  performs Grazie dei Fior,  the first winner of the Festival di Sanremo

The rules of the competition

Two categories, one competition: famous singers and new proposals. The first includes well-known and popular performers. Both unknown or young artists make up the second category. To them, the Festival is a platform to get exposure. However,  winning the festival doesn’t always mean becoming famous!

Still, there are rules for participants. One is ensuring the song has never been performed in public before. Secondly, the melody and lyrics must be original.

Nilla Pizzi, Adriano Celentano, Little Tony, Iva Zanicchi, Ornella Vanoni, Milva, Renzo Arbore, huge names in the history of Italian melodic music, are only some of the famous singers who have taken part in the Festival of Sanremo in the course of its history.

More recently, Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini, and Elisa, who became famous internationally. Ramazzotti won the competition in 1986 with Adesso Tu. While Pausini was the best among the Nuove Proposte in 1992 thanks to the song La  Solitudine. On the other hand, Elisa triumphed in 2001 in the “Big” competition with Luce.

The Italian cultural phenomenon

The Festival, though, is not only about the music and its singers. The Festival of Sanremo also belongs to its presenters, who often play a very important role in determining the success or failure of the event.

When you say Festival di Sanremo, almost every Italian thinks of two names: Pippo Baudo and Mike Bongiornowho presented the show 13 and  11 times respectively.

In recent years, big names of Italian TV like Carlo Conti, Paolo Bonolis, and Amadeus — who is presenting this edition (2020) have made it to the most famous stage in the country.

The Festival is also an occasion to remember the big names of Italian music. During one specific night of the Festival, the competitors perform covers of songs of the past. The first evening in 2017 witnessed a touching moment when Tiziano Ferro sang a song by Luigi Tenco, 50 years after he committed suicide during the Festival.

The Festival di Sanremo is a cultural event. It’s a bona fide Italian tradition.

Festival di Sanremo
Paolo Bonolis presented the Festival di Sanremo twice

Guests at the Festival di Sanremo

The Festival has always had some guests of International prestige. 

Among the many artists that cut through the Ariston stage, there are the Queen, in 1984, Village People in 1985, Europe and Elton John in 1989, and Liza Minelli. More name-dropping includes Tina Turner in 1990, Cindy Lauper in 1995, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen in 1996. And have we said David Bowie, Cher, and REM in 1999?

More international celebrities include Eminem in 2001, Britney  Spears in 2002,  and Gwen Stefani in 2005. Plus the stunning Jennifer Lopez in 2010 and One Direction in 2012. 

Probably the most “shocking” was Dita von Teese, the famous Burlesque queen. In 2020, singers such as Mika, Dua Lipa joined the stage. 

But international guests weren’t the only ones to attract the public’s attention. In fact, the young band Il Volo gained a standing ovation. After walking the stage as competitors, they came back as guests in 2018. The famous trio of opera singers captured the viewers with performances of Nessun Dorma and Canzone per te. They even performed a duet with Claudio Baglioni, who was the leader of the 2018 Festival di Sanremo. 

Festival di Sanremo
Il Volo performing with Baglioni

The Festival di Sanremo draws millions of viewers every evening. Italians attracted not only by the music, but also the culture, the fashion, and the gossip. Everything revolves around this music show.

Find out more about the winner of the 2020 Festival here!


Find out more about the 2021 Festival: Festival di Sanremo 2021

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