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OWhen Tonina Torrielli represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest in Lugano, Switzerland in May 1956, not only did she never find out how well her song performed, because only the winner was announced after a vote secret, but she didn’t even know she was taking part in the first edition of what was to become the biggest musical competition in the world.

“They sent me, like a parcel, to Lugano, without saying why,” said Torrielli, who lives in Turin, where the 66th Eurovision Song Contest is taking place. “So I went to sing and that’s it, I didn’t know it was the first European song contest because nobody was talking about it.”

Her singing career in music competitions lasted until the mid-1960s when she opened a music store called Maschio in Piazza Castello in central Turin with her late husband, Mario Maschio, who was a drummer.

The shop also rose to fame and for the next four decades was the place to go for music lovers. “Even today, people come to ask: ‘Where is Maschio?'”, says Shpetim Xhani, a concierge of the neighboring building. “It was very well known; people came from everywhere because you could find all kinds of music there.

Maschio may be gone – a clothing store replaced him – but music fever is very much alive as Piazza Castello and other squares and parks around Turin fill with buskers and musical acts locals as the Eurovision grand final approaches on Saturday.

“There’s a very nice atmosphere,” said Dino Ricchiuti, who played saxophone a few steps from Maschio, where he used to buy music equipment. “After two years of pandemic, which caused many bands to stop, Turin has come back to life.”

Italy is hosting Eurovision for the first time in 31 years after glam pop group Måneskin won the 2021 edition with a stunning performance by Zitti e buoni. The band from Rome have enjoyed phenomenal success since, including supporting the Rolling Stones at a concert in the United States in November.

Italian Tonina Torrielli: “I didn’t know I was singing at the first Eurovision Song Contest” |  Eurovision 2022
Måneskin celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 in Rotterdam. Photograph: Peter de Jong/AP

Måneskin’s victory, along with the fact that Italy is this year’s host, has helped revive the competition in a country that has pulled out of the event numerous times over the past 66 years. citing a lack of interest.

In 1974, Rai, the state broadcaster, censored the competition for fear that the title of the Italian song, Si, sung by Gigliola Cinquetti, who was Italy’s first Eurovision winner in 1964, had prompted the public to vote yes in favor of an upcoming divorce referendum. Italy last pulled out of the competition in 1997 and returned in 2011.

Now the country is the most successful among the ‘big five’ automatic qualifiers, along with France, Germany, Spain and the UK, having finished in the top 10 in eight of the last 10 contests. Mahmood, who finished second in 2019, is competing again this year, singing Brividi, a classic Italian ballad, in duet with Blanco.

“It’s hard to compare this competition with the previous one, although we are very happy to represent Italy at home,” said Mahmood. “We are really ready for this and hope to give our best to make our music better known abroad.”

Torrielli got his big break singing competitively at the Sanremo music festival, which started a few years earlier and was the inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest. Still hugely popular in Italy today, whoever wins Sanremo continues to sing for the country at Eurovision.

Italian Tonina Torrielli: “I didn’t know I was singing at the first Eurovision Song Contest” |  Eurovision 2022
Tonina Torrielli. Photography: Paola Maschio

Torrielli, nicknamed “Candy Girl” because she worked in a candy factory, became an overnight sensation when she beat more than 6,400 hopefuls from across Italy to earn a place among the 15 who won. participated in the Sanremo festival in March 1956.

“The factory owner heard me singing opera songs, so he pushed me to participate,” said Torrielli, 88. Her song, Amami se vuoi, came second, but because the first Eurovision allowed two songs for each of the seven countries that participated, Torrielli represented Italy with that year’s Sanremo winner Franca Raimondi.

Torrielli again competed in Sanremo, finishing third in 1957 and second in 1958, and traveled the world to perform at other music festivals.

Federico Capitoni, a journalist and music critic, said Eurovision has become more fashionable in Italy, mainly thanks to Måneskin, but Sanremo still rules the roost. “If you think about who’s been to Eurovision in the past, nobody remembers who they are,” he said.

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Not quite true. Torrielli, who spoke about the hospital, where she had surgery after a recent accident, still receives fan mail. There is also a page dedicated to him on Facebook, where supporters share excerpts of his songs.

Surprisingly, however, she’s not that big of a fan of her own music. “If you asked me the lyrics to my own songs, I wouldn’t remember them,” she said. “But ask me to sing the likes of Mi chiamano mimi [by Puccini]I know them all by heart because opera is the music I love.

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