People queue for entry during last year's edition of the festival. Photo: Marco Ravagli/AFP
One of the biggest events in the Italian music calendar, the Sanremo Music Festival, has kicked off with a song about the subjunctive, and Sting singing in Italian.
A total of 11.6 million people tuned into public broadcaster Rai for the show's first round on Tuesday night, representing more than half the total audience share.
So just what is it about the cheesy music extravaganza that gets Italians glued to their TVs?
This year, comedian Fiorello, opened the show on Tuesday night. One of Italy's most popular presenters and famed for his impressions, Fiorello's routine included a joke about Turkish resident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose visit to Rome earlier this week sparked protests.
"He's coming to Sanremo because he heard there are 1,300 free journalists here," joked Fiorello, who also had to deal with a protester when a man managed to storm the stage.
The second show on Wednesday featured a number of famous musical performers, including Italian favourites Il Volo and Sting, who owns a house and an award-winning vineyard in Italy. The former lead singer of The Police sang 'Muoio per te' in Italian before performing a duet with Shaggy.
His Italian received a mixed reception, with plenty of viewers praising his efforts but others more criticial. "This isn't a tribute, it's a vendetta," wrote one Twitter user, while another said "it took me a while to realize Sting was singing in Italian". The Corriere della Sera daily criticized festival organizers "for making foreign guests sing in Italian", labelling it a "crime" both against the Italian language and an "obviously embarrassed" Sting.
But it's one of the newcomers who is perhaps most likely to appeal to Italian language-learners. Lorenzo Baglioni's song Il Congiuntivo (the subjunctive) is a love song that helps teach the rules, and some of the most common forms, of this tricky grammatical mood.
Baglioni has said he wrote the song in order to teach himself the forms of the subjunctive, and has said he'd like Italy's Education Minister to add the tune to the curriculum, after the Accademia della Crusca -- the authority tasked with protecting the Italian language -- recognized the song.
In the video (below), Baglioni is rejected by a woman after writing her a love note with grammatical errors. There's a happy ending: after finding a grammar manual, he studies the subjunctive and is able to win her back after showing up at her door with large poster-boards displaying the correct conjugations.
The song has clearly gone down well with Italian journalists. Italy's Repubblica daily shared footage of a fervent singalong in the press room, with some reporters standing on their desks and many waving their arms as Baglioni performed.
The final of the show takes place on Saturday, with the winner being given the chance to represent Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Last year's victor wowed the judges with a catchy song exploring the fascination Western cultures have with Eastern spirituality... and a dancing ape.
Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP