L’Italia e l’Eurovisione
By Duane Zigliotto
The inaugural Eurovision Grand Prix, or Eurovision Song Contest as it is now known, took place the resort town of Lugano in Switzerland in 1956.
Eurovision began primarily as a radio show, as was also the case with the San Remo Song Festival, however the event was also filmed for those fortunate enough to own a television set at the time.
Seven countries competed in the 1956 contest – Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands – and Switzerland’s representative, Lys Assia took out the honours with the song ‘Refrain’.
Franca Raimondi represented Italy, performing the winning song from the 1956 San Remo Song Festival, ‘Aprite Le Finestre’.
Over the next 10 years, Italy proudly presented San Remo winners as the Italian entry in the premier European television showcase.
Italian music luminaries such as Claudio Villa (1962), Renato Rascel (1960), Betty Curtis (1961) and Elvis impersonator Bobby Solo (1965) took to the stages of many European venues with very little success.
Even famed Italian singer Domenico Modugno was unable to break the musical drought that Italy was experiencing at Eurovision. After his success at San Remo in 1958, Modugno took centre stage with his guitar that same year at Eurovision in Hilversum in the Netherlands. He sung the now classic tune ‘Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu’ but the jury was not convinced and only awarded him with third place. The song was later renamed ‘Volare’ for the English market and went on to win its first Grammy award in 1959. ‘Volare’ is believed to be one the most internationally recorded songs in the history of Italian pop music.
Modugno returned to Eurovision in 1959 with the song ‘Piove (Ciao Ciao Bambina)’ and finished in sixth place. His last appearance at Eurovision was in 1966 with the song ‘Dio Come Ti Amo’, but unfortunately he finished in last place.
Dame Shirley Bassy later recorded an English rendition of the song, ‘God, How Much I Love You’ which became a minor hit in the music charts.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Italy claimed its first victory at Europe’s most watched musical event.
A very young Gigliola Cinquetti won the San Remo contest in 1964 with ‘Non Ho l’Eta’ and then went on to win Eurovision that same year in Copenhagen.
By 1966, Italy’s interest in Eurovision was dissipating as the country’s own event, the San Remo Song Contest, was now shown live in Eurovision across Europe. Nevertheless, Italian stars continued to regularly appear at Eurovision including Sergio Endrigo, Iva Zanicchi, Gianni Morandi and Luca Barbarossa, without any major success.
Michele Scommegna, also known as Nicola Di Bari, won the San Remo Song Festival in 1971 and 1972. He brought his winning song ‘I Giorni Dell’Arcobaleno’ to Eurovision in 1972 at Edinburgh Usher Hall, but was only awarded sixth place.
In 1976, Italian pop music duo Al Bano and Romina Power executed an Italian/English version of the song ‘Noi Li Rivivremo’ and finished in seventh place.
National Italian singing sensations continued to make their way to Eurovision including Massimo Ranieri, Wess and Dori Gezzi, Mia Martini, Ricchi e Poveri and Matia Bazar, however they were unable to secure a major victory.
Italy’s first Eurovision winner, Gigliola Cinquetti, returned to the contest in 1974 in Brighton in the United Kingdom and almost stole the show with her rendition of ‘Si’. She secured an impressive second place, losing by only one point to the success story of the Eurovision – Swedish supergroup, Abba. Unfortunately for Cinquetti, Italy refused to broadcast the event and local radio stations boycotted her song as they felt the song carried a subliminal message that could influence the Italian voting public to vote ‘Si’ on the divorce referendum that would be held shortly after Eurovision.
Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A (RAI) decided to rest from the annual European musical competition in 1981 and 1982, stating that the interest of the Italian televiewers had diminished. The following year however, former bass player of Italian rock group I Pooh, Riccardo Fogli, went solo. He was convinced it was a good career move to be seen across Europe but his good looks and the self penned love song ‘Per Lucia’ only earned him 11th place at Eurovision.
In 1987, after resting the previous year, the broadcaster encouraged Mr Ti Amo, Umbero Tozzi, to join forces with Raf and this proved to be warranted as ‘Gente Di Mare’ gained third place – the best result since ‘Volare’.
In 1990, Toto Cutugno from Sicily who had won the national competition 10 years earlier with ‘Solo Noi’, decided to have Zagreb compose a Eurovision song of classic proportion – ‘Insieme 1992’. His judgement proved worthwhile as he took out the Eurovision title, the second win for Italy.
The stage was then set in 1991 for Italy to host Eurovision where it all started. The event was held on 4 May 1991 in Rome. Although it was originally supposed to be held in San Remo, the national broadcaster made the decision to relocate to Rome following the Gulf War and mounting tension in Yugoslavia.
Previous Italian winners, Gigliola Cinquetti and Toto Cutugno, were chosen to be presenters. Unfortunately Toto Cotugno had some serious difficulties with the pronunciation of the names of participants, songs and conductors. The program was lengthened because the hosts decided to read the allocations of votes of each competing country in Italian as well as the official languages of the event, English and French. The event gained some strong criticism from BBC presenter, Terry Wogan, who said that it would be remembered for its bloopers and definitely not for its quality.
This 36th edition of Eurovision is regarded as one of the most controversial in history with the presenters continuously confusing viewers when announcing results of votes, a voting system that has not changed since 1975. The plug was eventually pulled on Eurovision by the national broadcaster in Italy in 1993, after one of Italy’s favourite sons, Enrico Ruggeri could only manage a 12th slot in Dublin with the song ‘Sole d’Italia’.
Italian musical duo, I Jalisse, became unexpected winners of San Remo in 1997 and then performed as the last act on the program in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. Their own composition, ‘Fiumi Di Parole’ was mildly successful, securing third place and equalling the results of Modugno and, Tozzi/Raf.
Even though Italy was absent from Eurovision for the following 13 years, the Italian language was still heard on various Eurovision stages. In 2008 in Belgrade, the independent state of San Marino entered the competition with ‘Complice’, which was performed by a local five piece band named Miodio; and Swiss entry ‘Era Stupendo’ was sung by the Latin/Italian heartthrob Paolo Meneguzzi. Both failed to reach the grand final. Il Canton of Ticino, located in the south of Switzerland, has also entered nine songs in the Italian language. The best result was in 1987 when the local trio of Eurovision veterans Peter, Sue and Marc (Swiss/German background) ironically performed ‘Io Senza Te’ in Italian and registered a fifth place.
Italy boycotted Eurovision for some years before rejoining the competition in 2011when the country sent the winner of San Remo’s ‘Giovani’ (young) section to the event in Dussedelforf.
Former piano bar king, Raphael Gualazzi executed ‘Madness of Love and gained a respectable second place out of 43 participating countries. This year in Baku in Azerbaijan, Nina Zilli will fly the flag with a powerful tune called ‘L’Amore è Femmina’.