MILAN, Italy -- Madonna was only being, well, Madonna.
Elusive and unflappable. Glamorous and fickle.
They are traits that, for lack of a better explanation, apparently confused the host of this year's Sanremo Music Festival on Tuesday, when he sent the Maternal Girl home early after a brief but highly publicized performance to open the popular national music showcase.
After having dazzled the crowd with her world premiere performance of "Frozen," the first single from her upcoming Ray of Light album, host Raimondo Vianello cut Madonna off as she tried to address the audience. "We have to go on," Vianello announced and then directed her off the stage.
She left later that night on a private plane back to Paris.
"It would have been nice to talk with her, but before the show she let us
know that she would just sing her song," Vianello was quoted as saying at the press conference after the show held at the Ariston Theater. "So I was a little surprised when she approached me. I didn't understand what she said. These things happen."
The apparent faux pas has since caused a stir among young Italian rock-music fans, industry people and especially Madonna fans. "Even if her music is often derivative, her performances are always a step ahead," said Carolina Negroni, a Madonna admirer. "The way she was treated onstage wasn't very nice and appropriate considering who she is. But she probably didn't even realize it."
The 48th annual festival, the country's largest musical showcase with
five nights of competition between local singers presenting new and unreleased
material, typically ends up being an occasion of controversy and media speculation about artists. In addition to Madonna, the event, which will run through Saturday, was slated to offer some other major musical highlights, such as a performance by the Band member Robbie Robertson on Thursday and ex-Led Zeppeliners Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Page & Plant on Friday.
Having jetted into this seaside town near the border with France, Madonna was billed as the main attraction to kick off the annual event. It was her first international TV appearance in support of her new, electronica-influenced album, Ray of Light, which will be released Tuesday. She arrived in the afternoon on a private flight from Paris, just hours before she took the stage. In her true diva style, she pulled up to the venue in a black limousine and entered the theater surrounded by bodyguards.
Madonna avoided speaking with any journalists or media upon her entrance, except for an interview for one of the nation's biggest TV shows, in which she revealed one of her future projects, which she said would be a new musical film, "Chicago." "It's the story of two women in the '20s who killed their lovers and became famous for that. I enjoyed making this black comedy," Madonna told the station.
Following a number of local artists who typically compete in a best-song
contest each year, the new mother and pop icon took the stage in a long, black dress, surrounded by a string section and accompanied by William Orbit (producer of Ray of Light)
on keyboards. Then she performed "Frozen." With a minimalist dance performance, she moved sinuously, her hands dancing in the air. Tattooed in an Eastern motif -- just like in her video accompanying the song -- she mesmerized her audience with her more mature style and showmanship.
According to some fans, such performances are few and far between at the festival.
"Every year is the same story: We don't like the songs, we don't like the
festival, but we watch it just for curiosity and because everybody's
talking about it," said 23-year-old Mariangela Padalino, who along with Monica Sini, also 23, have been following the festival on TV from their home in Milan.
This wasn't the first time that a major artist has appeared at the Sanremo event. In 1996, folk-rocker Bruce Springsteen came to perform "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Last year's big guests were the pop phenomenon the Spice Girls. The festival typically attracts the largest TV audience of the year, with an estimated one out of every three Italians tuning into the final night, when the music-contest winner is proclaimed. And while some good music does come out of the event, most songs presented represent the worst stereotypes of Italian music.
As such, most highly acclaimed local songwriters avoid getting involved in the contest. This year was expected to be no exception. [Fri., Feb. 27, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]