The organizers of Italy's flagship Sanremo festival have announced some important changes in the rules and regulations for the 60th edition, which will run from Feb. 16 to Feb. 20, 2010.

The festival's artistic director, Gianmarco Mazzi, tells, "First
and foremost, we have suspended the rule that said that only Italian citizens could write or perform songs in the competition."

Although foreign guests have always been a feature of the five-night show, they have until now been prevented from competing in the contest. Yet Mazzi said that it was "still early days" when asked to name any foreign acts that might take advantage of the new rule.

Another regulation that has gone is that only songs in the "Italian language" may be performed in the contest. As of 2010, acts may also sing in any one of Italian's numerous regional dialects (such as Neapolitan, Sicilian or Milanese), although Mazzi says he is "sorry that this change has been exploited politically."

In Italy regional dialects often have non-linguistic connotations: the federal, "anti-Rome" Northern League (which is a member of Silvio Berlusconi's government coalition) often uses dialect as a form of protest.

Foreign acts would have to have songs translated for the performance if they were not written in a qualifying language.

Other festival innovations include a special evening in which today's stars will be invited to sing covers of their favorite Sanremo songs from the last 60 years. Mazzi says: "This should be good. They have over 1,700 to choose from!"

As is the custom, the festival will be divided into a main contest and a "Young Artists" section, which will be called "Sanremo New Generation." The number of competitors has been reduced to 14 in the main contest and eight in the "New Generation." The embargo on young artists performing or releasing their songs prior to the festival has also been lifted. The only limitation will be on a TV performance of a song prior to the festival.

"We have found the right mix of innovation and tradition," comments Mazzi.

After years of discord with the recording industry, the 2009 festival, under the auspices of Mazzi and popular TV presenter Paolo Bonolis, was generally considered a success. Mazzi says he is confident that 2010's presenter, Anna Clerici, "will also give us a great festival."