There will again be two instalments to today’s blog, because there are two very different halves to the rehearsals.
This morning witnessed the second rehearsals of five more second semi-finalists, topped and tailed by The Adventures of Eric and his Smashing Glass Box for Sweden (8th of 19 to perform in next Thursday’s lineup) and What Dana International Did Next for Israel (12th of 19 – the remaining seven in this heat will have their second run-throughs tomorrow).
This evening, the article will be has been updated with a summary of the first rehearsals for the ‘Big 5’, which include the now hot favourite France’s Amaury Vassili, and his main rival in the betting market, the United Kingdom’s Blue.
I wrote an article after ‘Popular’ won the Swedish national final warning that the very slick production we saw then might not be able to be replicated on the Eurovision stage. That is proving to be the case: there are only three backing dancers; only the back pane of glass is being smashed; and the general look and feel is far more pedestrian than what we saw in Melodifestivalen.
Of course, this impression is enhanced by the fact that Eric is still only going through the motions at the moment – although even that gets him slightly sweaty and out of breath in later run-throughs.
Don’t write this one off, though – ‘Popular’ can and probably will still come together significantly over the next few days.
By contrast, the Cypriot staging is already very effective, with Christos Mylordos and his crew swaying back and forth in boots pinned to the ground. I don’t mind hammer woman’s Herculean efforts either, though I’m still not sure her wailing is adding much to the song.
The main problem with this is that Mylordos is too shy with the camera, especially early on. If someone has a word in his ear about this before Thursday night, they might be in with a squeak of qualifying given what a nice change of pace it is after ‘Popular’.
Bulgaria is much as it was before except Poli is wisely not using the whole of the long catwalk to then just take off a layer of her clothing, but more quickly returning to the main stage to do it there instead. I do think it’s a shame for ‘Na Inat’ that it comes in the middle of three non-English language songs.
The last of these three, Macedonia, now has the backing dancers in fun white and red folk outfits. They manage to effectively inject some life into the staging and song, but I still don’t think it’s enough for qualification.
Israel’s Dana International is wearing a green basket weave outfit that reveals a lot of leg. She struts down the long catwalk to good effect and reaches the central stage in time for the final few lines of ‘Ding Dong’. However, the vocals remain noticeably weak for a very weak song and I’m sticking to my view that this has the feel of a non-qualifier.
Now onto our much-anticipated first look at the ‘Big 5’, starting with the hot favourite.
The French staging is doing everything right. There’s a stunning backdrop of a night sky turning into a thundery sunrise, with extra spotlights and pyros for added effect towards the end of ‘Sognu’. Vassili is staring right down the camera, singing faultlessly when he wants to and it turns out he does have stage presence.
I listed my issues with the song itself when it was first aired. These remain, but based on just this first rehearsal, the staging is doing its utmost to overcome them, and even gave me a few goosebump-y moments. The big unknown remains: will Europe decide it wants a popopera encore next Saturday night?
I have previously commented that a further potential obstacle for France was being followed in the running order by another classically-trained musician, in Italy’s Ralph Gualazzi.
But on the evidence of today, it’s not going to be such a problem. Gualazzi keeps his eyes shut for most of ‘Madness of Love’, never looks at the camera and the backdrop is very low-rent in comparison to Vassili’s. It’s having far less impact as a result.
The good news for fans of Blue was that the UK group put up a highly satisfactory first rehearsal that got better with each run-through (if you’ve been youtubing them, bear in mind you may have been watching an early practice – they became progressively more polished). Vocally they were strong, including Lee, and interacted very well with each other and the camera.
I’m not a huge fan of the visual concept with four boxes projecting images of the band and the song title ‘I Can’ at various points. They seem slightly pointless when you already have the group on stage and a huge backdrop behind them. I wasn’t sold on the suits either. But these are small quibbles in what was a good afternoon’s work from the boys in Blue.
Returning champion Lena also has reason to be pleased with her return to the Eurovision stage for Germany. The visuals for ‘Taken By A Stranger’ are fantastically dark and moody, just like the song. The backdrop is all silver and black, with occasional ‘hall of mirrors’ effects of her silver unitard-clad backing dancers.
Lena wasn’t good in many of the rehearsals before going on to win the contest last year – one of the reasons why I underestimated her chances. She looked utterly professional today, and the vocals were not a problem. The song, as I have written, is not particularly immediate, but it does stand out as different from the rest now that we’ve heard them all.
Last to be seen among the 43 entrants was Spain’s Lucia Perez with the summery number ‘Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao’. This being Spain, we had a feel-good dance routine performed by people dressed in white, and it was all very jolly if unlikely to make a serious dent in the scoreboard next Saturday.