The Festival Napoletano: the alter ego of the Festival di Sanremo

This year too, although slightly delayed, the Festival della Canzone Italiana will take place at the Ariston Theatre in Sanremo. In fact, in spite of the many difficulties caused by the Covid-19 emergency and the many controversies that have involved the organisation of the event, Amadeus will host the 71st edition of the Festival on air on Rai Uno from 2 to 6 March. Sanremo has been a tradition for ten years now, with the greatest singers of the national and international scene in the limelight and unforgettable soundtracks that will accompany us throughout our lives. From Nilla Pizzi to Pooh, from Massimo Ranieri to the late Mia Martini, passing through Masini, Ramazzotti and Vasco, how many champions of Italian music have successfully trodden the Sanremo stage! While waiting for this year's edition, however, we would like to tell you a story that perhaps few people remember, a story that is somehow connected to that of the Sanremo festival. In fact, before the Sanremo Festival was born in 1951, the beautiful Ligurian town had already hosted a music festival of a certain prestige, dedicated to the "mother" of Italian music, the Neapolitan one: the Festival Napoletano.

History of the Neapolitan Festival: a celebration of Neapolitan music

The Festival Napoletano was held for the first time at the Casino Municipale of Sanremo between Christmas Eve 1931 and January 1st 1932. The initiative was organised and sponsored by a large group of Neapolitan artists led by Ernesto Tagliaferri and Ernesto Murolo, father of the great singer Roberto, unforgettable in his duet with Mimì on the stage of the Ariston in 1992. The aim of the event was to make the great Neapolitan musical tradition known to the northern public as well, giving it greater lustre and prestige. Neapolitan music, but also Italian music, worthy of being known and listened to even by non-Neapolitans. The festival was well organised thanks to the aforementioned Murolo, who was the artistic director, and Tagliaferri, who directed the orchestra. The two brought to the Sanremo stage the most important performers of the time, artists of a certain calibre who sang pieces already known to the enthusiastic public, often already performed in other minor festivals dedicated to Neapolitan music. Some of the absolute masterpieces of the Neapolitan tradition were set to music and became famous throughout the world in the decades to come. One of these is 'O sole mio, composed in 1898 by Giovanni Capurro, Eduardo di Capua and Alfredo Mazzucchi, the most famous Italian song in the world, together with Modugno's Volare, sung on that occasion by Mario Massa, a famous performer at the time. Other historic pieces performed were Torna a Surriento composed by Ernesto and Giambattista De Curtis in 1894 and sung by Vittorio Parisi and Ferdinando Rubino, and 'O paese d' 'o sole written in 1925 by Vincenzo D'Annibale and Libero Bovio, an authentic hymn to Neapolitanism, sung in chorus by the entire cast. There were also songs written by the Festival's two driving forces, Murolo and Tagliaferri, such as Ammore Canta, performed by Vittorio Parisi in 1930, or Napule ca se ne va, composed by the duet in 1919, which ended the evening on a high note, albeit with a nostalgic and prophetic bitterness.

The evening was also enriched by choreographies of popular music: in fact, the artists also performed their songs with dance steps, accompanied by the cast of figures and professional tarantella musicians and dancers. Beautiful songs, excellent organisation, but also, let us remember, great performers. In fact, apart from those already mentioned, it is worth remembering the presence of the famous Ada Bruges, a sort of Laura Pausini of the time, famous throughout the world thanks to her international tours; or that of Nicola Maldacea, distinguished exponent of a genre that was very popular at the time, the so-called Cafè Chantant, an inexhaustible source of artistic talent.

The Neapolitan Festival from its origins to today

The first Festival Napoletano was a spectacle that honoured Neapolitan culture in all its aspects and the following year, for its second edition, it landed in Lugano, Switzerland. After the forced pause due to the war, the renewed Festival della Canzone Napoletana returned to its homeland to be held from 1952 to 1970 at the Teatro Mediterraneo in Naples, a kermesse broadcast by RAI that featured the big names of Italian and Neapolitan song. After a long pause interrupted only by the sporadic 1981 edition, the Festival returned with its music from 1998 to 2004, to be broadcast this time by Rete 4. And today? Today there is the Festival di Napoli Lyric and New Generation  which since 2015 has brought the Festival Napoletano back to life, giving voice to the new talents of Neapolitan music, while respecting the ancient tradition. A show broadcast by a network of national and international broadcasters that continues to sponsor music Made in Naples as it did on those Sanremo nights almost a century ago.