MILAN, Italy, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Sanremo Music Festival, Italy's oldest song contest, kicked off in the northern Italian city of Sanremo on Tuesday.
The annual show, which first started in 1951 and became a launch pad for some of the country's top performers, was held as usual in the Ariston Theater, with contestants divided into two categories -- established artists and newcomers. They will compete with live performances over five days.
Beside launching the careers of famous Italian singers such as Laura Pausini and Andrea Bocelli and providing the inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest, the festival also showcases the so-called Italian lifestyle as well as the new social trends in the country.
Sanremo is known as the "city of flowers" and the music festival's presenter Fabio Fazio said this year's event was dedicated to the theme of "beauty."
The opening was interrupted, however, by an unexpected protest from two unemployed workers from Naples leaning over a balustrade of the theater threatening to commit suicide, saying they had not received a salary for 16 months. They were reportedly persuaded to desist when Fazio promised to read a letter they had brought detailing their plight.
The opening was also marked by the presence of Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-leader of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S), on such a crucial day in politics, as center-left leader Matteo Renzi haf started party consultations on Tuesday in an effort to form a new government.
Beforehand, Grillo had delivered a speech outside the Ariston Theater to highlight the painful situation of millions of Italians in the ongoing economic crisis.
Grillo especially criticized the huge expenditure of public money in a country with the euro zone's second largest debt. Fazio's fee for the Sanremo Festival, the M5S leader revealed, was around 600,000 euros (825,652 U.S. dollars).
The 64th festival also hosted international celebrities including British singer-songwriter Yusuf Cat Stevens and French actress and model Laetitia Casta, as well as various personalities from the scientific, sports and cultural world.