For one week every February since 1951, the Italian media dedicate much time and space to a song competition which is held annually in the Ligurian city of San Remo. The songs themselves arouse little interest or enthusiasm today and, with relatively few exceptions, the singers who participate are ageing has-beens or young unknowns. However, the Festival keeps alive the mythology of Italy as the land of song, and a victory by anyone other than a melodic singer is regarded as a matter of some controversy
The Festival began as a publicity exercise for the municipal casino of San Remo, but thanks to radio and television interest it grew to be an event of national importance. In the conservative climate of the 1950s it offered an important forum for reassertion of the national melodic tradition (whichdraws from both opera and from Neapolitan popular song) after the intrusion of jazz and swing during the immediate postwar years. Although Italy was changing rapidly, bland nostalgic tunes praising village life, motherly love and chaste romance found a ready audience. It was ‘the triumph of nothing, framed by violins and rose petals’, as Gianfranco Baldazzi has written (Baldazzi, 1989:77) Singers of humble origins, like the Bolognese Nilla Pizzi and Claudio Villa, a Roman from Trastevere who dominated the Festival in its early years, achieved great national popularity. Thanks to their remarkable voices and forceful personalities, they contributed to a revival of the Italian melody as a core component of a shared culture.