Showing posts with label Claudio Villa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Claudio Villa. Show all posts

31 January 2024

Sanremo Music Festival - song contest

Historic annual event that inspired Eurovision 

Nilla Pizzi won the first two editions of the Sanremo Festival
Nilla Pizzi won the first two
editions of the Sanremo Festival
The first annual Sanremo Music Festival reached its conclusion on this day in 1951 with the song Grazie dei fiori - Thank You for the Flowers - announced as the winner, performed by the singer and actress Nilla Pizzi.

The festival is the world’s longest-running televised music contest, having been broadcast live by Italian state broadcaster Rai every year since 1955.  The Eurovision Song Contest, which was staged for the first time in 1956, was modelled on Sanremo.

Compared with the 2024 edition - the 74th - which is due to be staged from February 6 to February 10 and in which the public vote is crucial - the inaugural competition was very different. There were 20 songs to be judged by a committee of experts who determined the result, but only three participants - Pizzi, Achille Togliani and the Duo Fasano, which consisted of twin sisters Dina and Delfina Fasano.

All of the participants had to perform all of the songs over the course of the three nights with the judges having to decide on both the merits of the song and the quality of the three different renditions before settling on their winner. They were so impressed with Pizzi that the following year she not only was their choice to win the competition but took second and third places too.

The first contest had a different venue. From 1951 until 1977 its home was the beautiful Liberty-style Casinò di Sanremo, situated a street or two back from the resort’s waterfront. In 1977, however, the casino was closed for renovations and the festival was switched to the Teatro Ariston, the biggest theatre in the town with an audience capacity much larger than the casino. With the exception of one year, the Ariston has hosted the competition ever since.

The Casinò di Sanremo, a fine example of Stile Liberty architecture, was the Festival's first home
The Casinò di Sanremo, a fine example of Stile
Liberty architecture, was the Festival's first home
Had history unfolded differently, the annual festival might have had not only a different venue but a different location entirely. The original Festival della Canzone Italiana - the Italian Song Festival, which remains the competition’s official name - took place in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast rather than the Ligurian resort with which it is synonymous. 

After successfully staging the competition in 1948 and 1949, however, the Viareggio organisers ran into financial difficulties and the planned 1950 edition was cancelled.

Help was at hand. In Sanremo, which in common with Viareggio and other resorts was looking for ways to revive economies left in tatters by World War Two, Piero Bussetti, administrator of the Casino di Sanremo, met with Giulio Razzi, the conductor of the Rai orchestra, to discuss relaunching the competition in Sanremo, to showcase previously unreleased songs.

It was through their initiative that the 1951 event, the last night of which was broadcast on the Rai radio station Rete Rossa, came to fruition.

Over the years the festival rules have been changed multiple times, allowing more participant singers, involving international artists and some high profile guests.  Different categories were added to the main competition, including a section for newcomers that has been the launching pad for many illustrious careers, with Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini and Andrea Bocelli among the list of past winners.

A youthful Eros Ramazzotti, best newcomer in 1984
A youthful Eros Ramazzotti,
best newcomer in 1984
Zucchero and Vasco Rossi are two other Italian stars who can thank Sanremo for launching their careers, while the roll call of big-name winners - in Italy, at least - includes Claudio Villa, Domenico Modugno, Adriano Celentano, Peppino Di Capri, Toto Cutugno, Gianni Morandi and, more recently, Il Volo.

Villa and Modugno each won the competition four times. Il Volo, winners in 2015 with Grande Amore, are competing again in 2024 among 27 artists bidding for the crown of champions.

At its most prestigious peak, guest performers at the festival have included Queen, Elton John, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston. 

As well as providing the inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest, which was launched in 1956 with a similar format, the link between Sanremo and Eurovision has been maintained by the Italian tradition of picking the winner of Sanremo as nation’s entry for Eurovision.  Two of the three Italian successes at Eurovision - Gigliola Cinquetti in 1964 with Non ho l'età and the rock group Maneskin in 2021 with Zitti e buoni were Sanremo victors.

Sanremo was a holiday destination for the wealthy
Sanremo was a holiday
destination for the wealthy
Travel tip:

The resort of Sanremo in Liguria, which can be found 146km (91 miles) southwest of Genoa as the Italian Riviera extends towards France, enjoyed particular prestige even before the Music Festival put it on the cultural map. The town expanded rapidly in the mid-18th century, when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, who bequeathed money in his will to establish the prizes that take his name, was so taken with the elegance of the town after his holiday visits that he made it his permanent home. Known as the City of Flowers, it is characterised by its Stile Liberty architecture (the Italian variant of Art Nouveau), of which the Casinò di Sanremo in Corso degli Inglesi is a beautiful example.

The Viareggio Carnival is famous for its huge and often highly symbolic floats
The Viareggio Carnival is famous for its huge
and often highly symbolic floats
Travel tip:

Viareggio, which might have remained home to the contest now synonymous with Sanremo had the organisers of the first editions of the Italian Song Festival not run into financial difficulty, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany, about 26km (16 miles) from the city of Lucca and a similar distance north of the port city of Pisa. It has beautiful sandy beaches and, like Sanremo, some fine examples of Liberty-style architecture, which include the Grand Hotel Royal. It may not have a music festival to compare with Sanremo but it does have the Viareggio Carnival, which is the most famous in Italy after the Venice Carnival. Dating back to 1873, the carnival is famous for its enormous papier-mâché floats, which parade along the resort’s promenade. Often sending up well-known figures from politics and entertainment in giant caricatures mounted on the floats, the carnival has a more humorous side than its better-known counterpart, contributing to a lively atmosphere around the town. 

Also on this day:


1 January 2017

Claudio Villa - singing star

'King' of Sanremo sold 45 million records

Claudio Villa's tenor voice was considered good enough for operatic arias but he chose a career in pop
Claudio Villa's tenor voice was considered good enough
for operatic arias but he chose a career in pop
The singer Claudio Villa, who sold 45 million records and won the Sanremo Music Festival four times, was born on New Year's Day in 1926 in the Trastevere district of Rome.

The tenor, nicknamed 'the little king' on account of his diminutive stature and fiery temper, lent his voice to popular songs rather than opera although his voice was of sufficient quality to include operatic arias in his repertoire.

His four wins at Sanremo, in 1955, 1957, 1962 and 1967, is the most by any individual performer, a record he shares with Domenico Modugno, the singer-songwriter who was at his peak in the same era.

Villa recorded more than 3,000 songs and enjoyed a successful film career, starring in more than 25 musicals. His biggest hits included Ti Voglio Come Sei, Binario, Non ti Scordar di Me, Buongiorno Tristezza and Granada. 

Listen to Claudio Villa performing on the Italian TV show Canzonissima

He was a frequent guest on the Italian TV variety show Canzonissima, which was broadcast on state channel Rai Uno between 1958 and 1974. Later, he became a master of traditional Italian and Neapolitan songs.

Born Claudio Pica, the son of a taxi driver, he was raised in a working class area, living in the shadow of Rome's main prison in Via Lungara.

Villa starred in many  successful musicals
Villa starred in many
successful musicals
His talent for singing became apparent while he was still a teenager and he won the first song contest in which he participated, at the age of 14, performing the song Chitaratella, made popular by his idol, Carlo Buti.

Villa began to make regular appearances on the local station Radio Roma in 1946 and made his first record the following year on the Parlophone label.  He appeared in his first musical in the same year.

His career spanned 40 years, tailing off only in the 1980s, when he was profoundly affected by the death of his mother. He performed at Sanremo for the final time in 1985.

Villa lived in Rome all his life.  In 1986, he took a prominent role in an anti-fast food movement after the fast food chain McDonald's was allowed to open a branch in Piazza di Spagna.

His death, which was announced during the Sanremo Music Festival of 1987, came as a shock to his many fans.  Suffering from pancreatis and heart trouble, he travelled to Padua to undergo surgery but never left hospital, suffering a heart attack a month after his operation.

Villa married the actress Miranda Bonansea in 1952, with whom he had a son, Mauro, but they divorced after 10 years. After a number of relationships, including a long-standing one with the Roman singer Noemi Garofalo, who bore him a daughter, Manuele and a second son, Claudio, he was married again in 1973, to Patrizia Baldi.

Patrizia was just 18, some 31 years his junior, and the marriage made headlines for that reason.  Yet they remained together and had two children, Andrea and Aurora.

Travel tip:

Although formerly a working class neighbourhood, the Trastevere district, which sits alongside the River Tiber, is regarded as one of Rome's most charming areas for tourists to visit. Full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses, it is fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, with an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Travel tip:

Trastevere is home to one of the oldest churches in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Maria.  The floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340AD, although most of it was built in the first half of the 12th century. Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with breathtakingly beautiful 13th century mosaics, by Pietro Cavallini.

More reading:

How Domenico Modugno's first Sanremo win gave the world an Italian classic

Gigliola Cinquetti - the first Italian to win Eurovision

Rita Pavone - the 60s star who conquered America

Also on this day:

Capodanno in Italy