The crazy story of the 1991 edition, in Rome, Italian tragicomedy

Eurovision 1991, in Rome (Italy), was memorable. But not necessarily for the right reasons. A host city designated just four months before the event, hiccups with the orchestra, a duo of presenters fluent in English or French, a finale with an unprecedented result that increased the scheduled time by 40 minutes… is the example of everything what not to do at Eurovision”, slides to 20 minutesthe Italian journalist Emanuele Lombardini.

“I don’t know if ‘chaotic’ is the right word to describe this edition, but the apathy on the organizational side certainly didn’t help,” continues the Transalpin, author of a book on the image of countries in the competition. . Those who who participated in this competition did not feel at all that they were in chaos. Eurovision was “a program to do” and it was done. Only afterwards, in the light of the European commentary, were they aware of how this edition was reviewed. »

‘This victory came unexpectedly and was hailed as a disaster’

To understand how badly it started, you have to go back a year. In 1990, Toto Cutugno represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest in Zagreb (then Yugoslavia, now Croatia) with Together: 1992† In a context after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the context before the Maastricht Treaty, this song triumphs with its connecting text about the White and black blues by the French Joëlle Ursull. “This win was unexpected and was hailed as a disaster,” continues Emanuele Lombardini. The fact that Rai re-transmitted it later, at midnight, is symptomatic of the lack of interest in the competition. †

At that time, and still, in Italy, the Sanremo festival is the main musical competition that excites the crowd. An institute of Italian singing, founded in 1951, to which the millions of ears of La Botte are sounded at the end of winter. Initially, Rai, the transalpine public broadcaster, plans to unwrap the poisoned gift in this town on the Ligurian Riviera. The idea was to organize Eurovision 1991 as a puzzle, in different places, where no place alone had the necessary capacity. The organizers eventually decided to deploy the barnum in Rome after the Gulf War broke out in August 1990. “Security problems were just a pretext,” Emanuele Lombardini whispers, suggesting that it was mainly a matter of austerity.

“A feeling of unpreparedness”

The match ended up in the legendary film studios of Cineccità. “It’s in the outskirts of Rome. When I got there, I said to myself: is it going to take place here? The room was small. In comparison: in Malmö (Sweden) the following year it seemed huge! Franck Baillot recalls. The Frenchman, passionate about the competition, then saw his first Eurovision Song Contest from the inside. His enthusiasm soon met the disinterest of the local population. “What struck me was that there was no atmosphere, it was a non-event. The Italian press barely talked about it, there were no posters on the street, when I wanted to discuss it with the hotel receptionist he didn’t know what I was talking about. †

Accreditation around his neck, Franck Baillot spent the week watching the show painfully put in place: “What I saw gave me the impression of unpreparedness, that everything was done at the last minute. For example, the 700 chairs were only installed on Friday morning. Several delegations grumbled that they didn’t have enough time to rehearse or were annoyed at the delays of the orchestra’s musicians who blamed the rain and traffic jams, as the book relates. The Eurovision Saga published by Favre editions.

“Rome 1991 was organized hastily and reluctantly, but without the deliberate intention of doing it badly, argues Emanuele Lombardini. Rai just didn’t believe in the competition’s potential and worked with his resources and time management, which didn’t match those of his European counterparts. Sandra Bemporad, who ran the show, later complained about how European standards had been a source of anxiety and how awful the experience was for her. †

“It was really long”

On May 4, 1991, the traditional you gods however, sounds on schedule and European viewers discover a curious scene of knick-knacks and neon lights, with recycled scenery elements from other film shoots, between old architecture and modern skyscrapers. Toto Cutugno makes an appearance, this time as master of ceremonies, alongside Gigliola Cinquetti, winner of Eurovision 1964. Problem: neither speak good enough English or French, both official competition languages ​​needed to facilitate the event. They fulfill their role (almost) completely in Italian. “It soon became clear that the evening was hitting the wall. This duo did not match the expectations and the pace of an event like Eurovision. He didn’t seem to realize that he was working on a European program,” emphasizes Emanuele Lombardini. For Franck Baillot, the choice of Toto Cutugno was “a mistake”: “When the results were announced, he repeated each point awarded in three languages: French, English and Italian. Sometimes he was wrong… It took a very long time. †

Greek singer Sophie Vossou had enough to grin. his song, anixicwas slaughtered by a formidable saxophonist who hung the wrong notes on the musical bridge.

“The Greek delegation said afterwards that between the rehearsal and the live evening the saxophonist was replaced, mainly for economic reasons, because the orchestra was made up of temporary workers (“turnisti”). I cannot say what part of the truth is in this, the Italian journalist specifies. Others also say that during Peppino Di Capri’s performance, the orchestra seemed less “in shape” compared to the other performances. The latter, who represented Italy with a song in Neapolitan, is rumored to have even received a single instruction: ‘Don’t win’. If that’s true, Rai may have sighed with relief when he finished in a creditable seventh place out of 22 entrants.

The designation of the winning country has remained in the annals. Sweden and France tied for 146 points each and were separated by a brand new regulation, which came into effect two years earlier. After the Scandinavian Carola and the French Amina had reached the same number of 12 points, the difference was made at the level of the 10 points: the first had five and the second two. Executive supervisor Franck Naef therefore declared the Swede the big winner.

Léon Zitrone “in an impossible state of nerves”

His runner-up, who “couldn’t even imagine being in the top 10”, had no trouble coming to terms with this relegation. On the other hand, Léon Zitrone, who commented on the night before Antenna 2, exploded behind the scenes. “He was in a state of impossible nerves. He flew out in anger. It was very funny”, Amina recalled, amused, a few years ago before 20 minutes

Franck Baillot, he says that no one in the room understood how the two singers were decided. “When I left, I ran into Franck Naef and I said to him: ‘What about France?’ He replied “France is not above the rules” before continuing on his way. So I didn’t have the answer and at that time there was no internet to inquire. »

More than 6 million Italians followed this tragicomedy on television. “It’s not much compared to the audience at the time, but much more than expected. Since then, television has changed. If the 2022 edition reaches these ratings in Italy, it would be a huge success,” notes Emanuele Lombardini.

At the time, this unexpected score was not enough to restore Eurovision’s image among our neighbours. In addition, they withdrew for the first time for three editions, from 1994 to 1996, then from 1998 to 2011. The head of Rai, Mario Maffucci, claimed in 1998 that Eurovision was not adapted to the Italian public. Since Italy returned to the competition 11 years ago, they have only finished outside the Top 10 twice. was not perceived as a curse, but rather as a source of pride. This 2022 Eurovision Song Contest that Turin is about to host will be the opportunity, if ever, to prove that the contest will ultimately sing for the Italians, even if it never dethroned Sanremo in their hearts and ears.

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