The opening evening of the 66th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, the most famous and popular music competition in the world, will take place on Tuesday evening in Turin, which will end on Saturday 14 May. This year’s edition takes place in Turin, as the last one was won by the Italian team Måneskin, and according to the regulations, the host country is the winner of the previous year. The last time Eurovision was host to Italy in 1991, 31 years ago, for its 35th edition: it was still called Eurfestival and took place in one evening, on May 4. According to many, it was a half-catastrophe.
The first unexpected event happened a few months before the competition. Initially, in fact, the 1991 edition was to be held at the Ariston Theater in Sanremo, in honor of the Italian Song Festival that inspired Eurovision at its birth in 1956. However, in January, Rai decided to move everything to Rome, to studio 15 Cinecittà. The main reason for changing the theater was the need for a location that would provide more security for migrating foreign delegations at a historic moment with the Gulf War (which ended in February) and with varying tensions. and conflicts in Yugoslavia. Moreover, the European Broadcasting Union, the body organizing the competition, considered the Sanremo theater to be too small for a show of this size. In order not to give up, Sanremo proposed to use three different theaters in the city, but without success.
Due to a lack of attention to the changing of the theater, the set design was completed at the last minute, some elements reminiscent of ancient temples and others depicting modern buildings, some of which were transformed from films previously shot in Cinecittà. In addition, the traffic in Rome caused many problems and delays to the organization. The competitors taking part in the race had little time to practice, which resulted in various technical problems with sound and lighting. On Republic from those days we also read that “the set designers who equipped the large studio from which the Festival will be broadcast, had a lot of work to do just to fix the press: nobody expected accreditation (including 80 percent foreign ones) touch five hundred units”.
The 1991 edition was presented by Gigliola Cinquetti, who won the Eurofestival in 1964 with “I Have No Age”, and Toto Cutugno, who won last year’s edition with “Insieme: 1992”. The fact that they were both singers with no special TV presenters preparation was probably one of the reasons why the entire show was improvised and clumsy at the time. Also because in those years TV programs in general, and Eurovision in particular, had more formal and established standards of conduct than today. Cinquetti and Cutugno talked about each other frequently, and Cutugno in particular is remembered for many jokes and comments outside of the script.
Both Cinquetti and Cutugno spoke Italian most of the time, although the official languages of the festival are English and French. In an article published at that time on Corriere della Sera Cutugno was said to have become “the hero of a small personal battle, gaining for the first time in the history of Eurovision the possibility of communicating voting results, and also in English and French – the official languages - also in the language of the host country.” “Italy is not a colony,” he said in a fit of pride.
The competition ran longer than expected, over 3 hours, and there are still some videos on YouTube that collect the funniest moments. It climaxed in voting at the end of the evening. The results were first announced in English or French over the phone, with a live link from each participating country, and then repeated each time – with many errors and misunderstandings – in French, English and Italian by Cinquetti and Cutugno, who at one point he asked hastily to “set a rhythm to the voices, they are too slow.”
The most embarrassing moment was when Turkey did not answer the call from the studio and Cutugno commented, saying, among other things, “let’s do something, talk a bit with the artists, start singing, playing, doing something, I don’t know.” . At this point, Cutugno had consulted (always in Italian) with the Eurovision supervisor Frank Naef since 1978, repeating his name several times and of course putting him in trouble. Also on the official website of Eurovision we read that “the 1991 competition is best remembered because of the chaos and because the presenters repeatedly consulted the executive director, Frank Naef, for explanations, especially during the scores.”
At the end of all the international phone calls, it was time for this one to fly to Rome to get the Italian results, but the French-speaking voice picked up again, annoying Cutugno again: “Do you speak French in Rome? Chat in Italian for a while ».
In the end, Swedish singer Carola and French singer and actress Amina came equally: the first one won, because the regulations said that the one who scored the maximum number of points several times would have an advantage between them (today the regulations have changed and favors the winner voted by many countries).
The Italian player Peppino Di Capri and his song in Neapolitan “Comme é ddoce ‘o mare” were not particularly appreciated. Even on Corriere della Serathe day after the final, we read: “there was a perfidious joke: in his presence, Rai took precautions to avoid a new Italian victory that would force the organization to organize the race again.”
This thesis persisted for a long time, fueled by the fact that Italy, despite being among the founders of the competition, withdrew from Eurovision a few years later, excusing itself with the lack of public interest, and did not participate in the competition for several years. . He returned in 1997 from Jalisse, but the following year he did not compete again, this time for thirteen years out of competition, despite occasional protests in Italy as well as abroad. This long absence is the reason why modern Eurovision, which was defined in the 2000s with the expansion of participating countries, the transformation of aesthetics in a more spectacular and tamarro sense, and the introduction of telegraphy, remained almost unknown here for a long time. Italy returned to participate in 2011 with Raphael Gualazzi who won the Youth category in Sanremo.
Since then, quite slowly, Eurovision has returned to have some popularity and to be followed in Italy as well, especially since the 2016 finale was broadcast on Rai 1 (previously on Rai 4). Eurovision has finally become a really famous 2019 event in Italy featuring Mahmood who finished second just a few points from his victory and especially in 2021 with a Måneskin victory.