Eurovison 2018 Grand Final

So as per tradition here is the list of the Eurovision grand final entrants with videos of their songs and the contest’s results along with my usual irreverent comments… not that anyone takes Eurovision that seriously anyway hopefully.

Each act drew in which half of the Grand Final they would perform. As host country, Portugal drew its exact starting position (8) during the Heads of Delegation meeting in March. The running order is being decided to ensure each act has the opportunity to stand out. The producers look at the genre of music, whether a song is performed by a solo singer or group, the use of props, music tempo and various other aspects of each act. In other words the run order is ‘quiet, LOUD, quiet, LOUD, slow, FAST, slow, FAST, etc’

The running order in the finale was:

  1. Ukraine – MELOVIN: Under The Ladder

He is a vampire… or one of the goths off South Park. During one of the green room interviews the presenter, via a translator, asked him about it… That aside the backing singers paw the air and he sets fire to a set of stairs leading up to a grand piano. Common practise for Eurovision then… The song is generic so I can’t really comment on it. It was okay but forgettable thus they sacrificed him as the first act in order to warm the crowd up.

  1. Spain – Amaia y Alfred: Tu Canción

She looks like a young Rachel Weisz. He looks like the Jonas brother Disney locked away but has escaped. This is the ‘we really are in love, no honestly! – we’ve been in love the past 3 weeks/months… around the time we were put forward for the contest’ entry. It was a good ballad. I wish it had done better. I wonder if they’ll be together now the contest is over.

  1. Slovenia – Lea Sirk: Hvala, ne!

Electro beat, lots of synchonised dancing and a costume that makes me think she is going to run off into a plane and go do a bit of wingsuit glding like a flying squirrel… It’s meant to a motivational song but… it comes across like an exercise class down the local recreation centre by a motivational speaker.

  1. Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaitė: When We’re Old

This is the first of the ‘wait is that being projected as a hologram so the audience there see what we at home are seeing?’ moments. A 1970’s dress, twee millennial song and baiting ‘isn’t being in love for a long time great?’ for votes. Then to cap it off her husband comes on and awkwardly gets her attention before giving her a hug. Rewatch the clip for the moment he taps her to get her attention. It was a hilarious micro-transaction. Also do Eurovision have a ban on kissing? Becuase that would have been more appropriate as it seems this was a planned moment and would have been more fitting. It’s a nice song… but like all twee minor key ‘girl in love’ music I would likely be out for blood if having endure it repeatedly over the space of a a short amount of time. This sort of music seemed to be everywhere a few years ago.

  1. Austria – Cesár Sampson: Nobody But You

A good, soulful, song. His shirt is of a fabric last seen worn in the early 90s. Actually seeing it again I notice a ruffle on it’s left sleeve. It looks jut like a basic tshirt with a rubberish surface but apparently not. The song starts off well by by the end gets a bit too repetitive for my liking but what are you going to do really? It was a good effort.

  1. Estonia – Elina Nechayeva: La Forza

Sing opera. Wear an elaborate dress they project imagery on. I like it but it feels ridiculously melodramatic even for the Eurovision let alone an operatic performance. I really liked it but it was inevitable something more ‘accessable’ would win… [rant incoming…]

  1. Norway – Alexander Rybak: That’s How You Write A Song

The second, and most motable of the ‘does the audience there see all these effects or do they just see him miming?’ moments. The song title is arrogant thus his manner and everything becomes ‘I’ve done it once and I’ll easily do it again compared to these Eurovision amateurs. The backing dancers look like they escaped from a 90s housing estate. The man’s face at 1:32 of the video sums up everyone’s reaction to this song… Then the guy pulls a violin out his backside and does a shuffling dance. No one in the audience is singing along though at one point in the song he calls on them to. Yeah…

  1. Portugal – Cláudia Pascoal: O Jardim

Pink hair = SJW agenda? It sounds like Dido or the XX but it’s an original song but the influence is there… It came in last place at the end of the night which really was undeserved as it had more merit than some other songs. Ultimately it was a victim of ‘on the night’ having a weak vocal performance. I don’t know if it was the best choice to have the second person come on stage for that one refrain really… who also hasa very retro 80/90s hairstyle. It was a good song so it’s a shame it did so poorly.

  • break position

    The hosts go about goggle eyed interviewing people, making jokes and coming across incredibly awkward even for Eurovision hosts… especially the one with the constant look of shock doing all the work in the green room unfortunately.

  1. United Kingdom – SuRie: Storm

There was a stage invasion during this performance and apparently they’ve chosen to not give the ‘grand finale’ version but the Jury Show version done the night before the final. But fear not for here is the moment!

It was a decent song but admittedly nothing spectacular. I think we should have done better to be honest but then as the memes of Twitter commented Brexit no doubt played its part and everyone joked we should win and then deny anyone coming for the contest visas. But then there’s hold over from the Iraq war resentment and such too no doubt. Some countries, a few which were surprises, gave us points and there were jokes they’ll be seeing a boost to their tourist as an act of their good faith. I think what got to people was the lack of sympathy votes of a point or two from all but a few countries. The audience at the venue however gave her a rousing cheer so t least she has that. She recovered incredibly well after the stage invasion and was given the opportunity to perform again at the end of the running order if she wanted but she declined. As for the stage invader he was rapper, political activist and serial stage invader ‘Dr ACactivism’, who was plugging his book with a slogan on his t-shirt.

  1. Serbia – Sanja Ilić & Balkanika: Nova Deca

Obviously the pipe player got ‘MVP of the night’ no question. The male vocalist reminded me of Rasputin from Hellboy. You know it’s around now I began noticing how few of the perofmrers seemed to be wearing any colours besides black and white tonight which is a massive shift from previous years… it’s ll getting a bit too earnest nowadays. Nonetheless I enjoyed it. Later on, in the green room, apparently the singer kissed the presenter there unexpectedly and people on twitter were commenting on informed consent and such…

  1. Germany – Michael Schulte: You Let Me Walk Alone

The song reminds me of James Blunt, David Gray and singers from the early 2000s. People compared him to Mick Hucknell. He, like the Lithuania entry, has old photos showing in the background to get the emotional response. He was decent in fairness but it’s not the sort of music I’ve ever found appealing.

  1. Albania – Eugent Bushpepa: Mall

I really enjoyed this. His jacket’s design was interesting. People thought he looked like Elijah Wood. I’ve not much to add really. It reminds me of any number of songs I hear as the title song for computer games or at the end of films during credits – but in a good way.

  1. France – Madame Monsiuer: Mercy

How did this not steamrolled over other acts when getting points? They performed 13th and came 13th… It had it all… a message, the performance, while a bit weaker than previous ones, was still strong, they won over the audience… Maybe it’s just it’s very up my street and it charmed me. Admittedly the ‘half skirt’ they both are wearing and her shoulderpads are a bit ‘odd but not in an eccentric way’. The red shoes seem a bit unco-ordinated with the rest of their outfits barring her lipstick and nail polish.

  1. Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef: Lie To Me

Geek chic… or I should say ‘unflattering depiction of intellectual characters in a comedy from the early 90s’… Everyone was wondering what was in the backpack and kept comparing him to the lead character in the film ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. The dancing was good. The song was decent pop. Um, yeah nothing to be critical off except the costume to be honest. Probably a nice guy but the whole thing gave an attitude he probably is a bit of a wanker ‘lad’ going out on a drinking session on a Friday night in costume for some reason like a stag do…

  1. Denmark – Rasmussen: Higher Ground

Everyone compared the red haired singer to a character from Game Of Thrones. This was a great anthemic song… yet also only got middling vote numbers by the end. This year was baffling. Admittedly the ‘stomping in formation’ choreography is a bit funny but overall it was a good performance. I get it was too ‘one note’ or something compared to others who seemed to completely shift their musical style mid-song this year.

  1. Australia – Jessica Mauboy: We Got Love

Indigenous Australian lady performing for her coutnry and apparently had quite the heartwarming tory behind rising from an amateur ordition on a reality show all the way to performing here. As people noted her dress was far too short for some of the dance moves she was busting out towards the end. Or to be more exact the cameraman’s angle was clearly aiming to get a gratuitous shot or two. Nonethless it was a strong entry from Australia as per usual… but also came near the bottom. On Twitter were a lot of photoshopped maps reminding everyone that Australia isn’t in the southern hemisphere but actually just the other side of Ireland.

  • break position

I can’t remember what happened. More ‘comedy’ and interviews. I think this is when the presenter got an unexpected kiss and everyone suddenly began to decry informed consent and such. Who knows? I didn’t see the exact moment myself just the stillframe shots of her reaction… which looked just like her normal face as she had a PTSD stare the entire evening.

  1. Finland – Saara Aalto: Monsters

If this had been the second act of the evening you would think there was a horror theme to tonight’s finale. People said the backing dancers looked like Fascists or Star Wars rejects. People thought this, rather than the Irish entry, would be the gay anthem of the night. The spinning wheel and going upside down was good. The song is a bit too repetitive for me but there we go. This was second to last in the final votes of the evening which… well it was as good as many others but it wasn’t bad and at least had the backing dancers in interesting costumes.

18. Bulgaria – EQUINOX: Bones

As people said the female singer has a very Lady Gaga/1980s cyberpunk look though she reminds me of Gwen Steffani more so. The song is decent pop though its lyrics are a bit repetitive but whatever… Fun fact: I almost left this off the list by accident somehow.

  1. Moldova – DoReDoS: My Lucky Day

The staging and perfromance is classic Eurovision. The song is classic generic Euovision in sound reminding me of Abba… but that’s it. They’ll be on lots of ‘hilight clips’ no doubt. It’s just all very ‘Scooby Doo chase’ and cheesy 70s sex romp comedy really…

  1. Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso: Dance You Off

Is this a remix of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Rock Your Body’ song and it’s music video staging? The intro part definitely makes you think of it. So that’s 80 seconds before he actually does his own song… then goes back to the copyright infringing part. Then he begins doing drunk dad at a wedding ‘I used have some moves in my youth’ dancing… The staging is nice for a pop song in fairness but it is quite bland to me.

  1. Hungary – AWS: Viszlát Nyár

It reminds me of a lot of recent rock music with the screamed lyrics. It’s in Hungarian so that’s novel but I swear I’ve heard parts of this in other rock music recently. Someoen joked it was nice to see the band ‘Bullet For My Valentine’ getting work. I can imagine this being on the soundtrack for an action film aimed at teenagers. I enjoyed it and it’s a change of pace for this competition.

  1. Israel – Netta: Toy

Chicken noises. What I’m assuming will get claims of ‘cultural approriation’ from certain quarters. It’s the sort of act that always gets included in the highlights for being flamboyant and eccentric. The sad thing is you can hear she has some ability as a singer but the nonsense noises and such just make it unpalatable. It’s not so much the act itself that bothered people as much as this is what won in the end… personally I’m fine with such entries but there were some that were seriously worth doing better and to have this as the victor feels like it rubs salt in the wound for those entrants.

  1. The Netherlands – Waylon: Outlaw In ‘Em

A Netherlands country singer, who worked with Waylon Jennings before his death so is definitely trained by the best, and his backing dancers who honestly must have been at a loss at what choreography to do to the song short of line dancing… so chose gurning and flailing. The costumes for this all seemed to be wrong. The song was good country music in fairness but I think no one was sure how to stage it at all… also… leopard print? Really?

  1. Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Together

A milquetoast song. Due to this one having the dancers depict a homosexual relationship and the tattoos of other acts the showing of the Eurovision song contest was banned in China as it was against their broadcasting regulations. The dance choreography was good. The song is a bit too scchrine for my tates what with the sustained ‘whine’ sounding note. People want Dustin the Turkey to have another go at Eurovision and to go represent Ireland in Israel next year.

  1. Cyprus – Eleni Foureira: Fuego

People said she was a Poundshop (i.e. budget/cut price/cheap knockoff) version of Beyonce. In fairness the dancers are all incredibly well synchonised but this is definitely more about the dance than the song which I swear I heard last year or recently at least. Maybe the dance reminds me of those ‘man in high heels’ ancers that were on British adverts in Britiain a few years ago (if you don’t know what I’m on about by all means go look for the ‘Money Supermarket’ adverts on YouTube). To be honest if this had been performed earlier in the running order I don’t think it would have had the votes it got in the end but it did at least stand out amongst this year’s entries.

  1. Italy – Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

This seemed like the definite winner to me. However on the night the staging and such was a bit bare bones. I still think, despite getting 5th, this should have done better. This was Italy sending out it’s big hitters with an anthemic song with a message…

THEN THERE WAS AN INTERLUDE WHICH SEEMED LIKE IT WOULD NEVER END. It was slow songs (ONUKA last year were brilliant and other years they’ve had people like Justin Timberlake but it fell on it’s face this year save informing anyone who wasn’t aware that last year’s winner had a heart transplant and is in good health now), terrible comedy sketches by the presenters, interviews, cut aways… it just seemed like an eternity to many people on Twitter with some professing they had lost consciousness or grown a beard in the meantime.

But then finally the votes came along. The world rejoiced… for a moment.

The highlight being the greeting ‘hello humans’… as if the woman speaking was a humanoid lizard or something. The low light being the needless booing when the Russian judge appeared. It’s hard to say things are not political when you have such pantomime behaviour like that…

The Voting results in full

  1. Israel 529

  2. Cyprus 436

  3. Austria 342

  4. Germany 340

  5. Italy 308

  6. Czech Republic 281

  7. Sweden 274

  8. Estonia 245

  9. Denmark 226

  10. Moldovia 209

  11. Albania 184

  12. Lithuania 181

  13. France 173

  14. Bulgaria 166

  15. Norway 144

  16. Ireland 136

  17. Ukraine 130

  18. The Netherlands 121

  19. Serbia 113

  20. Australia 99

  21. Hungary 93

  22. Slovenia 64

  23. Spain 61

  24. UK 48

  25. Finland 46

  26. Portugal 39

Thus Israel won. The gag entry won.

I guess, in a year of such diverse acts, it proves that in such situations where there is so much choice to suit different people’s tastes it’s ultimately the lowest common denominator which ends up rising to the top… and for Eurovision that is novelty acts.

I can’t wait to see how Israel deals with this. Everyone complained about going to Russia due to any number of reasons. Meanwhile everyone will act like it’s perfectly fine entering a country which [insert whatever is the current news coverage when you’re reading this regarding any middle east conflicts and such] happening on it’s borders if not inside them. It’s going to be fun finding out which acts will be barred from entering due to political reasons just as the Russian competitor was barred from entering Ukrainian territory last year and told to perform via satellite feed if at all… [Fun fact: it was the same person meant to perform this year but she didn’t make it through to the grand final].

Usually I enjoy the contest but the near silence regarding the stage invasion by the (even more wooden than usual) presenters acknowledging it and the underwhelming tone of the event, as a whole, really made this worse than many recent years. There were a few outstanding songs but the subdued tone of it all means this year will be quickly forgotten. I think we have all got used to the spectacle of elaborate staging in recent years and that was something that felt like it was missing this year. Perhaps there’s a much tighter budget or something and if so it has had a detrimental effect sadly.

Advertisements

Eurovision 2018 Entrants

These are in alphabetical order and I’ll do a follow up of the live finale in due course.

For coverage of the Grand Final go to Eurovison 2018 Grand Final.

Albania – Eugent Bushpepa: Mall

Uplifting song. It’s the sort of thing that’ll get used in advertising or a feel good TV drama. Not sung in English which hopefully will be the norm this year as I would prefer performers to do their entries in their native language since this is meant to represent each country and not compete for homogeneity. (fun fact: if you look that word up on Google the example sentence it gives is “”the cultural homogeneity of Europe”. But I would comment on that being British and therefore leaving the EU via BREXIT…)

Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan: Qami

Another ‘not sung in English entry’. Very soulful. It’s ‘end credits’ music for a story with a bittersweet ending. It really builds in intensity towards the end. I really like it.

Australia – Jessica Mauboy: We Got Love

I didn’t mind Australia being involved that one year but it’s a little odd to have them in the EUROvision song contest… Inevitably, as seems common nowadays with English language singers, she sounds slightly American. An energetic song and definitely a ‘get up out of your seats and dance’ one. Enjoyable but it doesn’t really stand out. A good entry nonetheless. I can see this becoming someone’s favourite song if it was released unconnected to the Eurovision. Good driving or motivational music for working out due to it’s driving beat.

Austria – Cesár Sampson: Nobody But You

He reminds me of Aloe Blacc’s song ‘I Need A Dollar’ from a few years ago. Kind of a generic pop song as it progresses. I mean I could say that of others but this actually made me think that particular thing… I like the official video for actually doing something a bit more experimental. It’s alright but it seems to rely on the refrain a bit too much for it’s impact. I like it but I can’t see it winning. It gets a bit too repetitous towards the end lyrically.

Azerbaijan – Aisel: X My Heart

This one feels a bit sped up as if you’re playing the video at 1.25 speed on YouTube and yet her voice is soft and restrained… then it kicks it up a gear. It’s a bit ‘Eurivosion anthem’ paint by numbers. There are elements in it that remind me of a number of songs of recent times. Especially with the alternating soft, LOUD, soft, LOUD, juxtapositioning. I feel like this will be an also ran unless the performance at the finale pulls something out the bag. This is the sort of song that is popular on the radio in the summer so maybe it’ll get votes.

Belarus – ALEKSEEV: FOREVER

Looks like the actor Stuart Townsend or musician Pete Doherty in his promo photo. Opens his video by ‘cutting’ his hand for ink and therefore lyrics to bleed out. Pretentious… The song sort of shifts tones a bit too suddenly. It starts off as one thing and shifts to a totally different style. Nevermind he says ‘its something me must call dream’ when you would probably say dreams in that context so the English used is questionable if it was double checked at all. It’s very late 80s/early 90s feeling. I can’t get a grip on it. There’s elements I like but others I just feel are too jarring to allow me to say I like it as a whole. Also it has that repitition of one line issue.

Belgium – Sennek: A Matter Of Time

Instantly I like this song! It reminds me of Moloko or Portishead – that sort of era of music. It, unsurprisingly, considering what she has worked on, has a ‘James Bond film theme tune’ feel to it. I wish the initial ‘echo, echo’ burst of energy was better incorporated; it would have been better to keep the more minor tone until where the second chorus occurs in order to make it have more of an impact towards the end. Another one I’m rating highly.

Bulgaria – EQUINOX: Bones

The intro is very ‘now’. The members haven’t worked together before but it really feels like a well oiled machine. The lyrics are a bit odd regarding ‘I love beyond the bones’. It’s trying to sound deep but it’s like they took a phrase from a randomised English phrase generator and worked it into the song. It’s well made but I can’t say it’ll get far though I hope the members work together again as there’s a seed of potential there. It’s an intro song for a murder drama on TV.

Croatia – Franka: Crazy

The official music video is a high quality production. Another slow, seductive, song. The ‘love, love,love’ bit is a bit too severe a break and then the ‘voice over’ like bit will be interesting to see incorporated. I can’t say it’ll get far to be honest. It’s kind of bland once you step back from it. Another where they add bits that break the tone as if there’s some obligation to do so for the contest and it ruins the song effectively.

Cyprus – Eleni Foureira: Fuego

There’s a nice setting for the official video. It sounds like there’s autotuning to a lot of the vocals which personally I don’t like. It’s very upbeat and another ‘get up and dance’ one. However it also sounds quite generic. I wouldn’t notice this standing out if it was playing on KISS FM or another ‘current music’ radio station. In the official video she has a few ‘nude colour’ clothing scenes but that won’t sway the judges in the end if that’s her costume for the finale. It will however for home votes by horny dads and teenage boys no doubt… except men tend to not vote for these things anyway according to statistics. Honestly this song could have come out ten years ago and you wouldn’t realise it. It’s ‘early era Rhianna’ if you wanted a simple description.

Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef: Lie To Me

Geek chic look. Upbeat but maybe a bit too harsh an intro tonally. The trumpet segway makes it stand out but… it’s clean cut pop but personally it’s a bit ‘rushed’ feeling in it’s tempo. The official video has some visuals reminiscent of Pharell Williams from a few years ago so maybe they got the same video director for this. It’s an okay song but not one I would want to hear repeated too often. Its’s a ‘wake up’ song they’ll probably put about half way through the running order.

Denmark – Rasmussen: Higher Ground

Visually distinct from the more clean cut, clean shaven, entrants. Much more sombre intro and becomes anthemic. Straight away I really like this immensely and it has that distinctly Nordic aspect to it. Their official video isn’t a ‘music video’ like the others but them performing to an audience. That’s refreshing. It’s the sort of song I would like outside the contest but it’s not got that ‘victory grabbing’ je ne sais quoi depending on the crowd on the night…

Estonia – Elina Nechayeva: La Forza

The song reminds me of the music from the Drakengard/NeiR game series. She also performs to an audience. This is a very traditional Eurovision entry. It’ll no doubt do well for that but is it enough? It’s interesting to have classical singing at the contest so who know this might just do it. Singing in Italian might get them some Italian votes potentially though, as I’ve said before, I would prefer nations perform in their native tongue.

FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue: Lost And Found

Eye Que… it’s meant to be a homophone of I.Q. But makes me think of some surrealist painting of eyes queuing in a post office… She sounds very American. It’s a very professional song and official video. It’s a good song but… will it stand out enough to make an impact? The ‘interludes’ seem to cover a variety of styles as if trying to have something for everyone which might put people off. It was enjoyable and eclectic while not being silly. Hopefully it gets them some international coverage and the band will see increased sales after since they’re definitely good albeit not my thing personally. Also cudos on having a guy whose got a receded hairline for once in the competition’s history. Either you’ve a full head of perfectly quaffed hair or our a shiny baldy man… there’s no in between usually.

Finland – Saara Aalto: Monsters

She was the voice of Anna in the Finnish dub of Disney’s Frozen apparently. The music video is good. The song feels generic. You’d dance to it in the club but honestly would forget it moments later. It’s very ‘Eurovision dance music entry’… even for a Eurovision entry…

France: Madame Monsiuer: Mercy

They look like a parody of the stereotype of the French Newwave or how people stereotype Beatniks and, in general, the French at a nation or people at a poetry reading… ‘Look how art house cinema we are’ The song is very good and I’ll listen to again though it definitely has ‘1980s’ tones to it. I have mixed feelings about this. It definitely stands out but it won’t win like other stand out performances have done in the past depending on how it does on the night. Also the pun of ‘mercy’ and the French word ‘merci’ is a bit laboured but then I could say that of a lot of lyrics outside the contest too. Very good. I would listen to more by them. It’s going to do very well, I’m certain, if not possibly win.

Georgia – Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao: For You

That name is a bit on the nose… it almosts sounds like a library classification of what they are. Jokes aside this is really up my street so I’m biased. I want this to win. Even if the intro sounds like it’s leading into a nursery rhyme… It’s just very emotive and has this wonderful soothing impact on you. The sort of song played over a scene of victory as people rejoice. I WANT MORE! In fact when going through the entrants in alphabetic order before the contest I replayed this a second time and it was the only one so far – so that should tell you how much I like it.

Germany – Michael Schulte: You Let Me Walk Alone

It’s bland. It’s a bit like James Blunt, David Gray or one of those singers from around that time.. He’s not a bad singer but it’s not going to get much of a reaction. I wouldnt be surprised if he’s put early on or very late in the proceedings as an also ran entry in the running order. The information on the site more or less described him as a YouTube sensation who sings covers… take that for what it means to you. Once the song’s tempo increased it was much more enjoyable but it was right at the end once most will have tuned him out.

Greece – Yianna Terzi: Oniro Mou

Celtic pipes like intro. It’s a good song and video (if a little pretentious)… but I can’t see it winning. It’ll do well based purely on the capability of the performer on the night. I can imagine this song playing over a montage of someone going over a landscape… which is what the official video depicts with her in a pit. It’s humorous in an all too earnest way.

Hungary – AWS: Viszlát Nyár

‘Modern metal band’ according to themselves. It will definitely standout and could win for being so different. It reminds me of a lot of the ‘soft rock’ sound in recent years. More about screaming than audible lyrics. Actually if you’ve heard the professional lead vocalist ‘screamers’ in such bands and wondered what they would sound like if the lyrics were audible then this is the case study for that. It’s enjoyable as a change of pace from the other entries but it depends who’ll be voting on the night how well it will do. As for me I’ve heard this sort of song a number of times by other bands and nothing stands out in and of itself save they’re of course singing in Hungarian.

Iceland – Ari Ólafsson: Our Choice

A 19 year old who has been in musical theatre. The ‘have a break’ song entry they’ll put after a more energetic one in the running order. It’s incredibly bland and inoffensive. This could have been performed in any year of the Eurovision and not been out of place. It’s the most generic song entry I’ve witnessed… I’m sure he’s a very good performer but the song is incredibly bland.

Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Together

He was an actor in an Irish soap opera Fair City. A nice relaxed song. It’s enjoyable. Hopefully it’ll do quite well. There’s not much to add really. The official video depicts a, presumably, gay couple… the dancing is well choreographed as they dance through the streets.

Israel – Netta: Toy

Is she a ‘gag’ entry? The kimono and hair makes her seem so. The video all but confirms the ‘big character’ image… If you took out the bizarre vocal ‘clucking’ bits at the start and during it then this is a good, infectious, song with a very ‘of the moment’ looking music video. Will it win? Probably not but it’ll be a highlight of this year. [edit: Apparently she’s one of the favourites this year so what do I know?]

Italy – Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

Italy bring out the big guns with an aim of winning at all costs. This will win or come within the top three without question. The official video has lots of political imagery to all but demand points being awarded by the judges viewing it as a protest song. I didn’t like when Ukraine did that a few years ago, let alone the outright ostracisation of the UK entries after the Iraq war, so I prefer politics or any allusion to it be a faux pas in the contest but then with the block voting, despite their best efforts to stop it, and what happened to Russia last year it seems unavoidable. The song is in and of itself excellent. It’s blown everything away so far while going through the entries in alphabetic order. Very anthemic. It’ll definitely be a highlight.

Latvia – Laura Rizzotto: Funny Girl

Woof. This is the sort of bittersweet song I enjoy so without question is one of the highlights for me. The music video is also good though the flashes of harlequinn makeup look needlessly silly like a teenager trying to be spiritually deep because they listened to some sad music. It stands out from many of the others but I think it wont win though it’ll get good scores. I would listen to more by her after the contest nonetheless.

Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaitė: When We’re Old

One of those chocolate box ‘spiritually uplifting’ singers like Nora Jones. It’s a nice slow piece and should do well but the winners of Eurovision usually have stand out presentation, a punchy tone or, as last year, some sort of story behind them if they’re a slower piece. It was good but might be too jarring a minor key shift when compared to other entries with the major key, bombastic, songs. She’s good though and I would be interested to hear what else she has done.

Malta – Christabelle: Taboo

The official video seems needlessly cinematic at the start with a Mad Max: Fury Road tone. It actually distracted me from the song. Once it gets going to reminds me of ‘Warriors’ from last year at times but can’t maintain the same impact. It starts building up then suddenly cuts into this song. Also the singer reminds me of the actress Shona McGarty who plays Whitney Dean on BBC’s Eastenders…

Moldova – DoReDoS: My Lucky Day

Folk-pop… sorry they won me over instantly within a few notes but it’s not anything special. Infectiously energetic and fun in the moment. In 2017, DoReDoS won the contest New Wave in Sochi, Russia and there they caught the attention of Russian singer, songwriter and 1995 russian participant Philipp Kirkorov, who composed the song My Lucky Day for DoReDoS’ entry for the Moldovan national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, O melodie pentru Europa 2018. The songs good as an entry but I won’t recall it after this year’s contest despite what I said… it’s somewhat forgettable and I can see that happening during the votes depending where it is in the running order.

Montenegro – Vanja Radovanović: Inje

I like the music video’s cinematography. I really like the song initially and its orchestral instrumentation. However he looks like the bastard half-brother of Peter Serafinowicz… um it’s okay. I think I’m just distracted too much to really say much about the song itself…

Norway – Alexander Rybak: That’s How You Write A Song

The video is well done. That song name though is a bit cheeky any entry let alone by someone who won the Eurovision contest in 2009 thus it comes across as quite arrogant on his part. It sounds like the sort of upbeat happy song with a ‘sing along’ bit that would win the contest… however I’m bitter and thus hope someone else wins because it kinds of screams he’s got an ego with this entry. It’s the British way: we like underdogs but once you’re on top we want to knock you down…

Poland – Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer: Light Me Up

Festival dance music. After the previous entries Poland has played it relatively safe this year with a strong entry. It could win but it’s not the sort of music I listen to personally. It just kind of washes over me and sounds like all ‘anthemic summer dance festival’ music. The guy with the hat looks like the white bastard lovechild of Pharrell Williams and Will.i.am…

Portugal – Cláudia Pascoal: O Jardim

YES! THIS SONG! A striped back focus on lyrics, vocals and accompaniment… however the lead vocalist in the video does sound like she’s risking having ‘off key’ moments when performing in the final… but at it’s core this is the sort of thing I would want to see more of. Then again it’s this sort of striped back, no hiding behind vocalisers and other tricks, performance which won last year so… maybe this year they’ll opt for omething completely different.

Romania – The Humans: Goodbye

The group name combined with the song title… that’s an interesting choice. Maybe they’re robots. As for the song… it’s a bit dreary at the start. On the whole it’s very Bonnie Tyler (or another 80s female rock singer) with a middle aged garage rockband doing a gig down the pub… Enjoyable but I can’t see it going anywhere.

Russia – Julia Samylova: I Won’t Break

A modern style music video. Auto tuning. Repetitous quasi-dance music… but it’s Eurovision so it fits in. The lyrics are good but I don’t think it’s enough. If it’s to stand a chance they’ll have to pull off something exceptional with the staging. She’s in a wheelchair which reminds me of Poland’s entry a few years ago. She did the opening on the Sochi Paralympics in 2014. In case you forgot Russia got ‘banned’ last year so she was meant to perform then but they let he do it this year instead. It’ll end up an ‘also ran’ and likely due to current attitudes receive few votes if the attitude from last year carries over to this year. It happened with Britian due to Iraq and it’ll happen to them too possibly…

San Marino – Jessika featuring Jenifer Brening: Who We Are

Dancing toy robots and an unflattering costume reminding me of the 1970s… then a rapper in a yoga outfit. It’s an also ran. I can’t add much really. It’s a talent contest entry and looking at the information about them that’s more or less confirmed…. a nice effort but… no where near the quality of others.

Serbia – Sanja Ilić & Balkanika: Nova Deca

Balkan traditional music styles fused with rock equates to music I like. I will defintely be checking out more of their music but I can imagine it’s not everyone’s thing. The costumes for the women aare a bit silly but then it’s Eurovsion so it’s all in keeping I guess. If anything I would have preferred it to stay closer to the traditional aspects or was something like ONUKA’s Vidlik…

Slovenia – Lea Sirk: Hvala, ne!

I read the information on her and it’s basically ‘she finished each stage of education early with flying colours’. The offical video is of her performance on stage. It’s good but the song starts with the lyrics ‘my name is Lea’ and then her offering the audience advice on not accepting negativity from others. In others words if she wasn’t a single person’s creation I would swear it was written by a commity of Disney writers the message so trite and the performance so by the numbers. Also epilepsy warning if you want to watch the video… though you probably watched it first before reading this and are on the floor convulsing… She is an excellent ‘technical’ performer and composer but like such people she has all the technique down but none of the raw je ne sais quoi of ‘creative’ genius… She’ll go far in her career but will be outshone by others inevitably which is a shame.

Spain – Amaia y Alfred: Tu Canción

A lover’s duet. I will be shocked if this doesn’t do well. It’s very honest and really should. Sometimes these things come off as cheesy but vocally this really works. Who knows maybe it’ll (hopefully) win! It just has winning entry written all over it without feeling overly manufactured.

Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso: Dance You Off

1980s synth music. I like it but it’s a taste. Of course the 80s are on trend right now with the younger generations so it was inevitable someone would appeal to that era’s style as openly as this while mixing some moden aspects. It’s okay. I can’t honestly see it going too far though it might do okay during the votes depending how it goes on the night. It’s a bit ‘Justin Timberlake’ sounding.

Switzerland – ZiBBZ: Stones

Siblings who describe themselves as each others soulmates… incesty just like last year’s winners. The song was meant for a Canadian singer but they used it for themselves instead. She’s got a widebrimmed hat and he’s got a topknot. She’s toured with theatre productions and he won a drumming contest. They had five seasons of their own reality TV series. Anyway the song is pop rock and okay but doesn’t stand out really.

The Netherlands – Waylon: Outlaw In ‘Em

Wannabe American Country music singer… but he did go work with Waylon Jennings before he died in 2001 so… he is one. The song was written with Ilya Toshinskiy who was born in Obninsk, Russia but works in Nashville. It’s a very different song to what’s heard at the Eurovision but is this the slow creep of American influence into Eurovision when it’s been one of the few bastions where American influence had been minimal until recently? I don’t mind it but it’s at risk of losing distinctly European sounds despite the efforts of some acts to preserve, and bring into the modern era, their cultural influences. Unintended American imperialism. It’s a good song nonethless.

Ukraine – MELOVIN: Under The Ladder

His promotional photo makes him look like a male model. On stage he looks like a drama student who takes himself too serious to the point you cringe. I think it’s the shirt more than anything. He’s like one of the Goths from South Park… The song is okay and the staging with the on fire stair case is a nice touch but… eh he’s an also ran to be honest.

United Kingdom – SuRie: Storm

It’s a nice song. It will be used on TV promotions and adverts. I swear I’ve heard it used for those at some point but I can’t have. Tonally it’s different from many other entries and in the minor key. Really the UK is still clawing it’s status back after the whole Iraq thing years ago and now there are more competitors than ever doing their best and proving there are musical artists throughout Europe deserving of more recognition internationally than ever. It’s a good song. We won’t win but hopefully get a decent score and anything in the top half would be good. Pessimistic I know as actually this is better than quite a few I’ve been listening to while writing this but there we go don’t want to blow your own trumpet and seem elitist.

My likely high scorers and potential winners:

Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, FRANCE, Georgia, Ireland, ITALY!!!, Moldova (my dark horse bet), NORWAY (though I hope not), PORTUGAL (if they can pull it off on the night though they’re the hosts and you would assume not want to host it two years on the trot), Serbia, SPAIN (!!!), Netherlands (following the trend of ‘the, stylistically or presentationally, stand out performance usually wins’ logic seen in past years).

The running order in the finale will be:

Each act drew in which half of the Grand Final they would perform. As host country, Portugal drew its exact starting position (8) during the Heads of Delegation meeting in March.

01. Ukraine

02. Spain

03. Slovenia

04. Lithuania

05. Austria

06. Estonia

07. Norway

08. Portugal

break position

09. United Kingdom

10. Serbia

11. Germany

12. Albania

13. France

14. Czech Republic

15. Denmark

16. Australia

break position

17. Finland

18. Bulgaria

19. Moldova

20. Sweden

21. Hungary

22. Israel

23. The Netherlands

24. Ireland

25. Cyprus

26. Italy

The running order is being decided to ensure each act has the opportunity to stand out. The producers look at the genre of music, whether a song is performed by a solo singer or group, the use of props, music tempo and various other aspects of each act.

… well Georgia, of my favourites, got knocked out before the finale. Italy are the final act so that might work against them potentially or cause them to have a landslide victory. Spain is so early it might be forgotten by the voting time. Norway is also on early and France is exactly half way through.

I’ll try to cover the finale by the end of Sunday but as I do a post about the competition each year this will be put up just in case I don’t for some reason.

Resurrection by R. S. Thomas

Easter. The grave clothes of winter

are still here, but the sepulchre

is empty. A messenger

from the tomb tells us

how a stone has been rolled

from the mind, and a tree lightens

the darkness with its blossom.

There are travellers upon the roads

who have heard music blown

from a bare bough, and a child

tells us how the accident

of last year, a machine stranded

beside the way for lack

of petrol is covered with flowers.

 

by R. S. Thomas

Blood and Bone by Anna Prismanova

i.

My nature has two corner stones,

and mother, singing hushabye,

rocked not a single child, but twins:

bone of sobriety and blood of fire.

 

This blood, this bone – of equal zeal

and locked in battle from the start –

have sealed my fate with a sad seal,

forever splitting me apart.

 

ii.

Music, is it you I hear

above me in the early hours?

You place a cross upon my roof

and build a temple from my house.

 

All-mighty music, you unite

this blood, this bone within yourself.

I can’t be sure you’ll help my life,

but you are sure to help my death.

 

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)

a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)

(1946)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


 

Fun fact: She is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan.

Хованщина (Khovanshchina) by Mussorgsky

a.k.a. The Khovansky Affair

Performance seen at Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) on 30/09/2017.

Performed by the Welsh National Opera (WNO) company.

An opera, subtitled a ‘national music drama’, in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St.Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources however the opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.

Khovanshchina deals with an episode in Russian history concerning the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers, and the Muscovite Streltsy (Russian guardsmen from the 16th to the early 18th centuries, armed with firearms) against the regent Sofia Alekseyevna and the two young Czars Peter the Great (Peter I) and Ivan V, who were attempting to institute Westernising reforms in Russia. Khovansky had helped to foment the Moscow Uprising of 1682, which resulted in Sofia becoming regent on behalf of her younger brother Ivan and half-brother Peter, who were crowned joint Czars. In the fall of 1682 Prince Ivan Khovansky turned against Sofia. Supported by the Old Believers and the Streltsy, Khovansky, who supposedly wanted to install himself as the new regent, demanded the reversal of Patriarch Nikon’s reforms. Sofia and her court were forced to flee Moscow. Eventually, Sofia managed to suppress the so-called Khovanshchina (Khovansky affair) with the help of the diplomat Fyodor Shaklovity, who succeeded Khovansky as leader of the Muscovite Streltsy. Finally with the rebellion crushed, the Old Believers committed mass suicide (in the opera, at least).

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882. Because of his extensive cuts and recomposition, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Although the background of the opera comprises the Moscow Uprising of 1682 and the Khovansky affair a few months later, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Czar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter’s westernising reforms. It received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition in 1886.

khovanshchina-wnochorus0655-creditclivebarda.jpg

Shostakovich Orchestration:

Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses

Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon)

Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba

Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel

Other: piano, harp, celesta

On/Offstage: unspecified numbers of horns, trumpets, trombones

Principal arias and numbers

Scene 1 — Red Square

Introduction: “Dawn on the Moscow River”, Вступление: «Рассвет на Москве-реке» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “Make a wide path for the White Swan”, «Белому лебедю путь просторен» (Streltsï, People)
Chorus: “Glory to the White Swan”, «Слава лебедю» (People)

Scene 2 — Golitsïn’s Study

Aria: Marfa’s Divination “Mysterious powers”, Гадания Марфы «Силы потайные» (Marfa, Golitsïn)

Scene 3 — Streltsï Quarter

Song: “A maiden wandered”, «Исходила младёшенька» (Marfa)
Aria: “The Streltsy nest sleeps”, «Спит стрелецкое гнездо» (Shaklovitïy)

Scene 4 — Khovansky’s Palace

Ballet: “Dance of the Persian Slaves”, «Пляски персидок» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “A young swan swims”, «Плывет, плывет лебедушка» (Maidens, Shaklovitïy, Ivan Khovansky)

Scene 5 — Red Square

Introduction “The Departure of Golitsïn”, Вступление «Поезд Голицына» (Orchestra, Chorus)
Chorus: “Show them no mercy”, «Не дай пощады» (Streltsï Wives, Streltsï, Andrey Khovansky, Marfa)
March: “March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment”, «Марш преображенцев» (Orchestra)

Scene 6 — Hermitage

Aria: “Here, in this holy place”, «Здесь, на этом месте» (Dosifey)
khovanshchina-0040_the_chorus_of_welsh_national_opera_-_credit_clive_barda.png
Historical basis of the plot

The death of the young Czar Fyodor III has left Russia with a crisis of succession. Supported by Prince Ivan Khovansky, Fyodor’s sickly brother Ivan, who is 16, and his half-brother Peter, who is only 10, have been installed as joint rulers, with their older sister Sofia acting as regent. Sofia has allied herself with Prince Vasily Golitsin, a powerful courtier and liberal politician, who is also her alleged lover. Peter, if you haven’t guessed, is the future Peter I a.k.a. Peter the Great who established the westernised city of St Petersburg as the new capital of Russia, instead of Moscow, and led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, westernised, and based on The Enlightenment. Peter’s reforms made a lasting impact on Russia and many institutions of Russian government trace their origins to his reign. So what is being explored in this opera are the last days of ‘old’ Russia and what might arguably be called the prelude to it’s golden era.

Due to regulations applicable at the time of the composition of the opera in Imperial Russia, it was forbidden to portray members of the Romanov dynasty on stage, so Mussorgsky had recourse to a series of symbols and indirect mention of main characters in the plot. Sofia, Ivan and Peter never actually appear on stage.

The principal theme of Khovanshchina is stated outright in the choral number “Akh, ty Rodnaya, Matushka Rus'” in Act I (“Woe to thee native, Mother Russia”), which laments that Russia is bleeding and dying not because of a foreign enemy, but because of fragmentation within.

Something like a three-way civil war is in progress, which basically compresses twelve years of Russian history into one telling. The Czarist court is modernizing, and two powerful forces are resisting these changes: the Streltsy and the Old Believers.

The Streltsy are decommissioned elite soldiers/guards (“Streltsy” literally means “shooters”, just like “musketeers”), past their prime and on indefinite furlough. They are fanatically loyal to Prince Ivan Khovansky.

The Old Believers are Russian Orthodox Christians who have left the state-sponsored church because they disagree with the Patriarch Nikon’s reforms; they also challenge the line of succession to the throne and have refused to recognize the Russian Patriarch. Their leader is Dosifey.

Fortunately for Czar Peter, these two factions despise each other, as the Streltsy are rowdy degenerates and the Old Believers are pious ascetics.

Each of the three principal basses in the opera believes himself to represent the “true” Russia against her internal enemies: Prince Ivan Khovansky claims legitimacy by noble birth and military prowess, Dosifey by religion, and Shaklovity by supporting Czar Peter.

Costume

As seems a trend with WNO productions, such as The Magic Flute, they colour code the different factions.

Red: Khovanshsky and his private army the Streltsy. Khovansky himself, to stand out, wears a great coat with a large red fur collar to distinguish him from others and denote his status.

White: Old Believers members

Grey: Citizens of Moscow, Emma, the Persian dancer (i.e. the victim’s of the other factions actions)

Gold: Liberal aristocracy i.e. Golitsin

Green military uniform with brown great coat: Shaklovity and the Czar’s soldiers

Black: denotes a servant role it seems thus are worn by people with influence existing somewhere between the common person and moral factions if not with divided loyalties.

What I find awkward about this colour coding choice in the production is that even a passing knowledge of Russian history tells you these colours carry significant relevance.

The red of the revolutionary force seems at first glance an obvious choice: Khovansky opposes the monarchy and the Bolshevik’s too did in the twentieth century. So far so good. Shaklovity in military colours again makes him distinct from others as someone morally ambiguous. Golitsin in gold as a liberal aristocrat is fitting.

Grey is used for the chorus in the first few acts, Emma (a maiden from the German quarter) and the Persian slaves of Prince Ivan Khovanky who are victims of the events around them and suffer for it. A neutral body neither white nor black morally they’re swept along in events with no ability to choose their destiny nor protect themselves from the consequence of the actions of the others. Of course the chorus changes throughout the performance to which ever scene requires them to represent Streltsy, Schismatics (Old Believers), Persian slaves or otherwise.

Black is used for functionaries and those who fall somewhere between the morality of the factions. Varsonofyev, Golitsin’s retainer, wears this colour but with gold piping to show his servitude, Marfa who torn between her love for Andrei Khovansky and as a schismatic (acting at times as a diviner to Golitsin) and the scrivener who seems swept up in events around him.

The issue then is the white used for Dosifey and the Old Believers. White is the colour of those who support the monarchy or at least are of nobility, for example the term white emigrefor those who left or were exiled during the revolution and the white army, and yet in this production it is used for the old believers who oppose the actions of their monarchs.

But what other choice is there? Well the robes of Russian Orthodox priests are black so they could have easily just used that colour (despite the Old Believers breaking away from the state endorsed church) and had the ‘servant’ roles be another colour. Certainly if anything Shaklovity, as a loyal follower of the monarchy, should have. out of everyone, be dressed in white if the production is determined to have the setting updated to the early twentieth century quasi-civil war setting. Perhaps it seems I am nitpicking. Certainly Marfa being one of the schismatics (old believers) isn’t clear until much later in the performance as the colour coding leads uninformed audience members astray.

khovanshchina-wnochorus1037-creditclivebarda

Cast:

Prince Ivan Khovansky: Robert Hayward

Prince Andrey Khovansky: Adrian Dwyer

Prince Vasily Golitsyn: Mark Le Brocq

Shaklovity: Simon Bailey

Dosifei: Miklos Sebestyen

Marfa: Sara Fulgoni

Susanna: Monika Sawa

Scribe: Adrian Thompson

Emma: Claire Wild

Varsonofev: Alastair Moore

Kuz’ka: Simon Crosby Buttle

Streshnev: Gareth Dafydd Morris

1st Strelets: Julian Boyce

2nd Strelets: Laurence Cole

Servant: Dimo Georgiev

Persian Slave: Elena Thomas

Production staff:

Conductor: Tomas Hanus

Director: David Pountney

Designer: Johan Engels

Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca

Lighting Designer: Fabrice Kebour

Choreographer: Beate Vollack

Assistant Conductor: James Southall

Assistant Director: Benjamin Davis

Production manager: Robert Pagett

Musical Preparation: Segey Rybin

Staff Directors: Deborah Cohen, Polly Graham

Lighting Realised on Tour: Ian Jones

Language Coach: John Asquith

Stage Manager: Katie Heath-Jones

Deputy Stage Manager: Suzie Erith

Stage Design

Overall the permanent stage decoration is of a decimated city reflective of Stalingrad or the general western depiction of Soviet Russia where everything somehow looks like a post industrial wasteland from 1935 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Apparently the country lay in ruin for over half a century. I found that a disappointing stereotype to adhere to.

Ironically, during the 1990s, a number of areas did end up in a very run down state when the economy took a massive downturn until the millennium when it was revitalised again. Indeed a few areas are still in that state but they are the exception not the rule usually being sites that exist somewhere in the countryside left derelict. The only time a city such as the setting of the opera Moscow would be in this state was during war time. ‘But they’ve taken artistic license’ people will say to justify it. Yes and in the musical Billy Elliot they trivialise a very emotionally turbulent period of within living memory history for working class people in Britain for the amusement of the middle classes which trivialises the brutal conflicts between striking picket lines and police with irreverent song and dance number. Sometimes art offends intentionally to begin a dialogue and other times it does it through ignorance. The setting is not the Soviet union, as most audience members will assume, nor is it ‘mystic Russia’ as the launch event described it. It’s a caricature underplaying the brutal historical reality like pirates, cowboys and soldiers in children’s productions.

The designers obviously wanted an iconic image of early revolutionary Bolshevik led Soviet Russia and watched a lot of western produced films set in Russia during the Soviet era but mostly filmed elsewhere (Gorky Park, Child 44, Gulag, Silk Stockings, Ninotchka, etc) which all share the same grim grey and brown colour pallet to depict it as a post industrial hell – which in areas around factories and closed cities would be true as it is anywhere, but the impression in all these films is the entire country was like that – which means even over a quarter of a century after it’s end we still live with the propagandist image of the Soviet Union which is perpetuated by visual designers who type in Soviet Russia to a search engine, see Stalin era depictions in Western propaganda films and say ‘good enough’ and copy it. Unlike North Korea Russia doesn’t have an eternal leader and if they did it would definitely not be Stalin and, it should come as no surprise, the country did actually develop after Stalin’s death and not stagnant in the aesthetic of the Stalin era (although of course the Soviet Union had plenty of periods of stagnation in later decades but that’s a story for another time).

I just find it very awkward they depicted the setting like this when they seem to have chosen a quasi-civil war setting which inevitably reminds the audience of the real life conflict which occurred between the revolutionary Red Army against the monarchist White Army yet assigns the colours inappropriately. During the civil war the white army supported the Czar while in this production white represents those who oppose the Czar. The production covers a time period of about 12 years and apparently Moscow lay in ruins throughout that time. ‘Artistic license’ no doubt applies.

Below is a rough layout of the stage design.

khovanshchina WNO stage

  • In the layout graphic you see the grey steps upon which performers sit or lay.
  • The green pieces are the scribe desks which each have a small desk lamp to illuminate them.
  • The green diamond is the pillar with a light on top of it which the scribe is forced to climb, by Streltsy soldiers, to read what is written on it. A pile of books/papers spill out of it when the illiterate Streltsy are informed of what is written there.
  • The purple barrier is on an overpass above one of the access points to the stage.
  • The yellow chair and painting are used when Khovansky confronts the Golitsin about Sofia.
  • The red hexagon is the bath where Khovansky is killed.
  • The red circle represents the ball on which the Persian dancer performs nude (actually she has body paint/skin toned clothing I think but I was sat in the gods so it was hard to tell when she discarded her silk dress).
  • The white ramp is lowered in later scenes when Dosifey comes to speak to the other Old Believers and when Khovansky, now an old man, tells the Streltsy to go home and await their fate instead of fight when the Czar’s forced descend upon Moscow to eliminate them.
  • On the left side is a wall with empty windows in a waffle like shape. At the start of the play light is shone through the gaps to show the dawning of the opera’s events and at the end, to bookend the opera, as the building in which the Old Believer’s commit mass suicide. At this point a smoke machine is lowered from above and the followers bring heavy stage lamps onto the steps which illuminate in the final moment depicting them tableau like in death.

khov_v1_1140x532

Things of particular note, both good and bad, during the Welsh National Opera (WNO) performance I saw.

The tower of leaflets in the first act which is opened and spills paper out across the floor is very effective in portraying the proliferation of knowledge the scribe causes by reading out the proclamation in Act I, scene iv.

The scribe, in act I, scene IV, and Emma in Act I, scene VI, are both bound with red chords to represent the social binding they both undergo through force by others. Sadly I don’t recall this being used again later so these come out as somewhat of an anomaly and I have to question why the idea wasn’t followed up with for later scenes.

When Golitsin is sent into exile he is carried lying on top of the painting used as the background of act ii. In his hand is a book he is reading while the actor, for dear life, hangs onto the side of the painting as he is angled towards the audience while pretending like he is relaxing. If you imagine some of the more naïve medieval depictions of saints which ignored realism you can image what this looked like. It was at one turn effective and yet oddly hilarious and I don’t think in this opera that was intentional.

In the mass suicide scene one person wouldn’t stop moving towards the back of the group. The smoke machine let out a little puff and that was it. It was on stage, hanging from the fly tower, for about 20 minutes only to do that. Or it may have meant to represent the thurible/censur used by Orthodox Christians but if so it still stands it produced only a slight puff of smoke and the staging of the scene makes you think they all just laid down rather than committed suicide via immolation.

I’m pretty sure the Russian pronunciation by some of the performers was off. The only one most would note is when someone, Shaklovity I believe, pronounces emphatically at the end of one line ‘Спасибо as ‘spa-see-boh’ when the naturalised way so say it is ‘spa-see-bah’. I don’t know if it was the performer or the director who went with that. Either way it really took me out of it a few times. At the launch event it was noted ‘for time’ that The House of the Dead would be performed in English while Eugene Onegin and Khovanshchina would be performed in Russia. Part of me wishes they had done this in English as I suspect they performers are not all experienced in performing in Russian if they’ve mostly been called to do works in French, German or Italian as there are inevitably differences in the languages. It’s a little sad but not completely unexpected. The actual performances themselves were of a high standard desptie all my criticisms.

In the WNO production, during the Dance of the Persian Slaves they have a single dancer in a silk dress perform over Khovansky while he lays in his bathtub. She performs a number of gymnastic postures and such then removes her dress. She has body paint across her chest and, I assume, flesh tone knickers on (I was sat in the upper circle so for intent and purposes she seemed naked but there’s no indication she would be otherwise WMC put warnings about it anywhere on the production’s literature) then climbs on top of a ball and rolls around the stage accompanied by bare chested men stabilising it. She takes Khovansky’s coat and drapes it over herself… then, after performing her piece, sits there on the ball for about ten minutes in shadow watching Khovansky be assassinated in his bath and all the other Persian slaves walk past and spit on his corpse. The dance was composed by Rimsky-Korsakov by agreement with Mussorgsky and I would be lying if I said it is noticeable that it stands out compared to many of the other pieces instrumentally. Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov have very distinctly difference composition styles needless to say.

The assassination is well done as there is a shower head on the bath and thus when his throat is slit the tap is turned on and a shower of red blood rains down upon him before it’s turned off by the last passing slave and a sheet is drawn over the bath tub until Andrey is made to confront his father’s corpse.

There is a backlit walkway with folds down from right stage when Dosifey and later Khovansky address their followers. It really helps to emphasise the status they are held in by their followers when they appear from stage right on it. Dosifey strides out and is in as much, if more, strength as he was at the start of the play. His determination and disposition have only grown with time. This is contrasted when Khovanshy initially seems to emulate this when the Strelsty call for him. However instead of the barrel chested, physically imposing, leader of earlier acts we see a frail old man hobble out and beg his followers to lay down their arms and prepare for the Czar’s judgement to be passed on them.

It can’t go without mention that you have quite archaic depictions of women. Marfa is lovesick for Andrey and every action she takes is to be reunited with him despite his rejection of her, Emma despite being named is only someone for Andrey to lust after with no further contribution after her first scene, the Persian Slave(s) are there to be Ivan’s playthings, Sofia is never seen on stage but is represented by Shaklovity… the only woman of any note is Susanna (one of the older members of the Old Believers) who ultimately only serves to shrewishly condemn Marfa for her love of the younger Khovansky instead of dedicating herself to the cause absolute.

Khovanshchina WNO

Review conclusion

Clumsy. I think that’s the word I would want to use regretfully, if not lazy for cetain aspects, regarding this production. It’s a revival of the 2007 production and it seems like they haven’t built on what they learned back then. ‘A decade has passed, no one will remember what we did last time. We hardly do ourselves!’

At the launch event it was joked they dusted off one of the older works and apparently that’s all they did thinking. The photo used for the promotional material, even at a glance, is clearly the old costumes as you see a man dressed in traditional black robes and not this productions choice to have the Old Believers wear white. This isn’t a revival by a retread with a new coat of paint sadly. In Hollywood films we see remakes of older films that don’t add anything to the original, don’t find a successful new interpretation nor make their own version but just seem to retread the exact same steps as their predecessor and often makes the same, if not more, mistakes. Apparently that can happen in opera too from what I saw here. If anything it’s gotten sloppy trying to experiment on some aspects that they didn’t fully consider.

The performers do their best, proving their status in the world of opera and I find little fault with them beyond some pronunciation which can be expected if they’re not often called on to perform in Russian often (let alone the suggestion of there being little time to prepare which was suggested at the season lauch event) but I think it was a lot of the staging and other choices which really took away from, rather than supported, the production.

The Persian dancer certainly was out of tone with the rest of the production. You have to ask if it was mandated by someone with influence making what is meant to be evidence that Khovansky has abandoned any noble ambition and given into decadent hedonism watching ballet instead was turned into a burlesque show for the audience. It takes you out of it completely it’s such a contrast to every thing else even compared to other productions of the opera by other companies. A brave choice but one that should have been reflected earlier with the actions of Ivan’s son Andrey towards Emma to show that despite all Khovansky’s noble words we see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the end.

It seems like I am nitpicking at artistic choices or minor points but it all accumulates. WNO always put a lot of effort into their set designs and staging. You would be hard pressed to say they do anything less than excel in it otherwise but for this production the choices just don’t work. There are some great ideas but the way they get implemented seems half hearted or misinformed at times. Khovanshchina is one of the rarer operas to be performed so they really had a chance to establish themselves further as one of the great opera companies but instead seem to have ‘given it a go’ with a mindset that failure is highly likely. This season they were also simultaneously doing Eugene Onegin and The House of the Dead alongside this piece and I am not sure how those will have come across as they are in many ways much safer options compared to Khovanshchina which perhaps asks a lot of an audience in comparison.

On the whole you might think three and a half hours would be dreadfully long but I found it moved along quite quickly. The only times I noticed the time were are the start, which seemed to take an eternity to establish events, and at the end where it just seemed like, after the pardoning of the Streltsy, everyone left remaining now needed to each perform a piece individually before the finale. People joke about the ending of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy taking forever but really this opera was not well served by reinstating the parts edited out previously.

It is often asked if you need to read up about an opera before seeing it and it’s up to you. WNO on their own webpage introducing people to opera even say this. You might get more enjoyment knowing the story before hand so you can enjoy the performance or you might enjoy seeing the twists in the narratives played out before you without warning. Khovanshchina is definitely one opera you must read up about before or else you will get lost. The colour coding is a good effort to counter this but you will still get lost if you don’t follow it carefully or have prior knowledge of the proceedings.

Khovanshchina: The operatic example of what ‘too many chefs spoils the broth’ looks like.

Originally an opera (subtitled a ‘national music drama’) in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky.

After Mussorgsky died leaving it unfinished Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882.

Because of his extensive cuts and “recomposition”, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Of course then each staging might choose to make alterations themselves. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev’s request. When Feodor Chaliapin refused to sing the part of Dosifei in any other orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov’s, Diaghilev’s company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky’s finale, which is still sometimes used.

Even with only a passing knowledge of Russian classical music you can see that some of the biggest names of the twentieth century tackled the piece and with each alteration came tension on what was the best option. Rimsky-Korsakov streamlined the opera and made it accessible. Shostakovich, true to his own style, included the more experimental sections which perhaps to me make the piece feel excessive in length or, as can be expected of things added back in after a ‘finalised’ version has been created, the pacing is negatively affected so some parts move along at a pace and others seem to come to a screaming stop and drag. Rimsky-Korsakov, if you look up the alteration history, made a lot of shortened sections. It’s a topic far too long for a review as it deserves it’s own focused consideration.

I assume it’s the Shostakovich version performed as it’s not immediately obvious in the brochure which version they went with but no doubt made some adjustments to suit themselves.

It’s a good opera to go see once but I can’t say after this experience I will want to see it again and certainly having seen a few Welsh National Opera productions (Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, etc) this is by far one of, if not their, weakest productions by far. The staging which is one of the company’s strong points falls flat here and at a few points borders being comical or sensationalist for the sake of it.

This review is only about this one production and not the company as a whole. WNO are serious contenders in the world of opera but in this case they underserved Mussorgsky’s opera and, in hindsight, hid it between Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Leos Janacek’s From The House Of The Dead. They sold this seasons operas’ brochures all together in a single volume at the cost of £6 on the assumption if you are seeing one then you’ll obviously be seeing the others too all as part of the R17 event. I’m sure those are both far superior but sadly my experience with Khovanshchina has made me lose faith in them this season. For all I know it was one bad night but it just so happened to be the one bad night I went to see their production of the opera.

During the season Khovanshchina and Eugene Onegin are performed in Russian but The House of the Dead, for timing, is performed in English. Part of me wishes they did Khovanshchina in English too if only to have a bit more control over some of the finer details. The opera has some good arias, the chorus work at every point is astounding but there are certainly some parts which I think will test even moderately patient audiences. It’s definitely not a piece to introduce someone to the world of opera with.

The brochure is nice though and very informative about the different operas so that at least is a nice note I can end on. Buy that as an introduction to the different operas, discussion of their background and have some high quality matt prints of Russian paintings.

The Just by Jorge Luis Borges

A man who cultivates a garden, the way Voltaire wanted.

One who is grateful there is music in the world.

Who delights in knowing where words come from.

Two workmen who, in a cafe in the South, play chess silently.

The potter who deliberates over form and colour.

The typesetter who lays out this page well but still is not pleased

A woman and a man reading the last tercets of a certain canto.

One who strokes a sleeping animal.

Who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done to him.

Who is grateful for Stevenson,

Who prefers others to be right.

These are people who, ignored, are saving the world.

 

by Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986, Argentina

translated by Kurt Heinzelman

Eurovision 2017

Grand Final: Saturday, 13 May, 2017

Location: International Exhibition Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine

Host broadcaster: NTU

Presented by Oleksandr Skichko, Volodymyr Ostapchuk & Timur Miroshnychenko

EBU Supervisor: Jon Ola Sand

The theme this year was ‘Celebrate Diversity’.

How best to represent that? Three conventionally attractive white, male model looking, presenters groomed to within an inch of their lives. The real theme seemed to be to cause as much epilepsy across Europe as possible considering how many rapidly flashing lights were used constantly throughout the night this year. I myself ended up with a headache. Also they seemed really petty about people saying ‘Kee-ehV’, like the food, instead of the correct pronunciation ‘Keh-eff’ to the point they used the alternate transliteration to enforce it. I doubt it made any difference in the end.

Also, since it was such a big story, it has to be mentioned that the Russian entry, Julia Samoylova performing Flame is Burning, was refused entry into the country. The Eurovision organisers, in fairness, tried to ensure Russia could compete by suggesting another entrant be submitted at short notice. Russia refused on principle. So the offer that Julia could perform via satellite was made but this too was refused. It’s either their entrant can perform on the same stage as everyone else or nothing at all. In the end it was nothing at all.

‘Eurovision isn’t about politics’ I often hear said. It’s hard to make that claim when there is still block voting for neighbouring countries by their judging panels and things like this occur.

Hearing the song again after the final event it’s better than some that did get to compete but wouldn’t have won. At least it would have stood out. I just find it hilarious that in a competition with the theme of celebrating diversity the judges are all industry manufactured male models and a wheelchair bound competitor is refused access. It can be argued Russia was trying to embarrass Ukraine since her application was a last minute thing but still. Dark comedy gold…

The presenters came across as very obnoxious on the whole. In fairness Timur, the bearded one, was likeable but I guess his English wasn’t deemed good enough though he doesn’t sound artificial and insincere like the other two. He got relegated to doing the waiting room bits. Maybe the Eurovision staff don’t like facial hair who knows? They liked Conchita Wurst.

Oleksandr and Volodymyr reminded me of the sort of presenters, at least here in the UK, who were male models first and then selected for training in media presenting as they ‘look the part’ thus don’t naturally develop a unique style which causes an artifice and arrogance, intentional or not, to be present in their mannerisms so they never seem sincere.

At one point when Katrina, of Britain’s winning entry in 1997, was giving the the British points one of the them commented that the year she won was the year the other judge had been born. That’s a great display of manners, let alone presenting skills, to remind people of their age and that they won, quite literally, ‘a lifetime ago’ as far as you’re concerned… It also didn’t help they flirted outrageously with other point announcers as if they were in a bar and felt like hooking up with anyone who appealed to them.

One of them did the prisyadka (knee bending) a.k.a. ‘the Cossack squat dance’ part of the Kazatsky (Ukrainian hopak stage dance) because they need to send the message ‘hey guys we’re just some fun loving dudes who happen to be presenting an international song contest but we know how to chill out like everybody else’… but the whole thing is so forced and intended for him to show off it comes off as self promotion when he does it with ease while others,who’ve never learned the correct technique can’t… plus he has plenty of space to kick forward while they’re packed in behind him. Yeah… I just found them needlessly irritating throughout the whole thing. Usually it’s joked that the presenters of the Eurovision each year are cheesy and artifical but these guys had it down to a fine art.

There also seemed an odd monochromatic colour scheme amongst the contestants this year. They were all wearing all white, all black or a combination of both. Some contestants, rebels that they are, wore grey! It was surprising to see any contestants wearing muted, let alone bright, colours. If you watch this event in black and white you wouldn’t be missing much.

So let’s carry on to the, hopefully, humorous comments about each entry this year.

1 Israel : IMRI : I Feel Alive

An off key boy band. What a way to start the events! However the pyrotechnics were good. Not much to add otherwise… an incredibly weak song to start the evening with. A real ‘we want to be part of the competition but definitely not win’ effort. Awkward. Even off key singers should get to perform #CelebrateDiveristy…

#CelebrateDiversity by singing off key!

2 Poland : Kasia Moś : Flashlight

As seems Poland’s ‘go to’ option every few year you get maximum cleavage exposure to gain the ‘dad vote’ e.g. 2015’s Donatan & Cleo performing My Słowianie. The dress seemed to be Leelo’s bandages outfit from The Fifth Element but with a semi-opaque skirt attached. The song itself reminded me of someone trying to emulate a James Bond film’s theme song. I am guessing there’ll be high points awarded from Britain due to the number of Polish nationals who have moved here for work in the past decade. (I was right – We gave this entry 10 points).

On a side note last year their entry, Monika Kuszyńska – In The Name Of Love, was in a wheelchair and that was a gambit Russia was going to play had their entrant been allowed into the country this year you might speculate.

#CelebrateDiversity … by being a statuesque blonde in skimpy clothing.

3 Belarus : Naviband : Story of My Life

A cute couple to garner lovesick fools’ votes. It reminded me of La Seine from the animated film Un monstre à Paris (A Monster In Paris) because of how it was staged. It was very enjoyable and uplifting. Very ‘Eurovision’ but in a good way. I wouldn’t mind hearing more from them so this is a good platform to introduce themselves to an international market who might not know them already. They should have been the first song to perform this evening just to enthuse the audience watching.

#CelebrateDiversity through Heteronormative relationships.

4 Austria : Nathan Trent : Running On Air

A sappy love song. The sort of thing people will buy once it’s been played to death on the radio at least once an hour, every hour of every waking day over a month, to the point they’ve been all but brainwashed into buying it. Then years later will wonder what the hell they were thinking at the time. At easy listening song. Inoffensive. A feel good pop song you will forget seconds after the video ends. I have and I’ve heard it a few times now while editing this post.

#CelebrateDiversity by being incredibly generic and forgettable.

5 Armenia : Artsvik : Fly With Me

Lady Gaga, during one of her more sombre moments, copies Madonna’s style in the late 1990s while doing an imitation of a Shakira song. The dancers are very impressive in a ‘this is a parody of interpretive dance’ way… they wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980s music video to be honest. Nonetheless they will definitely be getting a lot of work offers after this. A good song paying respect to Armenian music in an updated style. Very good but the dancers are very distracting.

#CelebrateDiversity by creating a performance mixing your cultural heritage and modern techniques – and then undermine it by having two white dancers in alabaster make up to make them even paler… but they’re a blonde and a brunette which is diverse.. if you go by the dictionary definition.

6 The Netherlands : OG3NE : Lights and Shadows

A set of twins and their sister. The sister is, as Graham Norton put it, ‘the tall blonde one’. Their song reminds me of a country music song from America. The words flashing up… when it said ‘Not Give Up’ I just found it to be poorly implimented English. Their outfits are a 1980s sequins hell. Yes this is definitely a 1980s country music performance. Also I can’t look at their group name without it making me think it’s the name of a gynaecology organisation…

Do you see how they represent this year’s theme? That’s right – they are not all thin and they dress like very, very old women going on a night out in town. #CelebrateDiveristy!

7 Moldova : Sunstroke Project : Hey Mamma

They think they’re cooler than they are. People usually refer to something like this when joking about how dads embarrass their teenage children by trying to be cool but, in reality, being incredibly out of touch with current fashions. The fake saxophone playing is in that awkward position of ‘too real to be done as a joke’ but ‘not enough that it’s funny’. Also the fact that their dance moves equate to ‘shaking your leg after wetting yourself whilst drunk’ doesn’t help. The backing female singers costume change as soon as they walk towards the front of stage was pointless though singing into their bouquets (hiding their microphones) was novel. It all came across as an awkward ‘dad fantasising he’s still cool at a wedding reception’ moment. It’s enjoyable enough on it’s own but got drowned out during the competition.

#CelebrateDiversity by dad dancing and celebrating Heteronormative marriage (again).

8 Hungary : Joci Pápai : Origo

They are Romani so at least this entry does celebrate diversity unlike many of the other more standard Eurovision entries. He uses a mini milk churn as an instrument. The violinist wiggles her hips. The traditional swirling Romani, barefoot, dancer distracts you from thinking how potato shaped his head is and if he has a jawline beneath the beard. And is there some rapping too? Well, I liked it but we all know people traditionally dislike the Romani so…

Across the board this is the sort of entry Eurovision should have where it’s celebrating a country’s culture by mixing traditional and modern techniques to create unique music. Instead we usually get bland ballads, pop songs, techno dance or soft rock. So this is my moral victor of the evening. They’re my moral victors of the night. It’s one of the few that actually does #CelebrateDiversity by mixing traditional and modern musical techniques.

9 Italy : Francesco Gabbani : Occidentali’s Karma

Is he intentionally trying to come across as a stereotype of a sleazy guy? The moustache is one thing but then that raspy voice too is pure caricature… Then suddenly the gorilla appears. I’m sure there’s a good reason and it’s not just there as a hook to make people remember the song when the tele-voting section comes around. Apparently it’s a highly respected choreographer playing the gorilla role too. The backing singers look like they escaped from a ‘united colours of Benetton’ advert. #CelebrateDiversity (via mindfulness and consumerism). Meditation = celebrating another’s culture = celebrating diversity so that’s good but… it’s awkward when presented by ‘that creepy waiter you hope doesn’t serve your table again tonight’. The songs good but how they staged the performance is… odd.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting like a creepy waiter trying to have a one night stand with a tourist known to be into mindfulness and mediations… and dancing gorillas (furries).

10 Denmark : Anja : Where I Am

It’s actually an Australian performing. She moved there a suspiciously short time before the event. If you ever wanted the most generic Eurovision entry ever this is it. It’s intensely generic. It defies you to find anything unique about it. As if someone from the Disney channel was commissioned to create the most wide appeal, inoffensive, entry possible. It’s the sort of song you hear over the closing credits of one of their films. It’s good but highly forgettable.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a blonde white Australian sing for you representing a Scandinavian country…

11 Portugal : Salvador Sobral : Amar Pelos Dois

Graham Norton said it was a ‘marmite’ song which you’ll either love or hate. I found it to be the best song of the night. (It ended up winning in the end by quite some votes). It reminded me of a tear-jerking song from a Studio Ghibli film. How could this not be universally adored? The only downside is he hunches his shoulders, gesticulates a bit too much and apparently has really bad health due to his heart. His sister, who composed the song, had to perform it a few times during the preliminaries apparently… so he might be dead by next year. Be an inspirational figure overcoming your poor health to win the European Song Contest only to be dead by next year because of the strain it put on you. Dark comedy gold. I hope he will be okay though.

He actually made my night when he said it was a victory for real music over disposable music… saying that at the Eurovision song contest of all places. Balls… Of… Steel. You can’t help but admire him. And for the reprise at the end he did it as a duet with his sister so no questions a well deserved win. The sort of thing that would make the Grinch’s heart grow three times larger (ironically).

#CelebrateDiversity by having someone with chronic health issues, involving their heart, perform at a highly stressful, internationally live broadcasted, event…

12 Azerbaijan : Dihaj : Skeletons

A very 1980s formal wear inspired look. They brought their own chalk board wall covered in inoffensive graffiti including such words as BADBOY, SENSATION, READY, THORN, FANTASY, NOW I AM INTO DAYDREAMS, MY HEART, GRAVITY… It’s as if they’ve never gone into a real public toilet or the rough part of town in their life.

At the start she’s like a cat about to spit up a hairball. Wait – where are her hands? Is she… is she…. no she can’t be pretending to do that could she? There’s a guy on top of a ladder wearing a horse mask because… reasons. It’s all about sexual repression I guess. Then the walls come down and she takes her coat off. Yeah! She’s not going to be bound by societies norms! She’s going to stand up for her rights! If she wants to touch herself in a public toilet, while a guy wearing a horse mask stood on top of a ladder watches, she’s not going to let them stop her! #CelebrateDiversity!

It comes across like a performance art piece done by an amateur dramatics group. Skeletons – yeah, because… we all have one so we’re all the same under the skin… right? I actually quite liked it overall. It had it’s own distinct identity and should have done better. Also woof woof. Definitely blonde hair with black lipstick seems the theme this year for many female performers.

#CelebrateDiversity being kinky isn’t wrong… even when it involves a guy, in a horse mask, on top of a ladder watching you.

13 Croatia : Jacques Houdek : My Friend

He should have done this, as Graham Norton said afterwards though I was thinking the same thing, in a ‘half man/half woman’ costume split vertically. The long tails formal leather jacket is odd but not as much as him wearing bright white trainers with it. A classic ‘only in Eurovision’ entry. It’s novel… I enjoyed it… I just don’t feel it’s something I could enjoy outside of it being a one off novelty. He has those ‘over the thumb’ sleeves I see Bulgaria’s entry wearing later. So that’s this years fashion for the men then besides ‘the close shaved on the side of the hear with a big bouffant of hair on top hairstyle’ which is fashionable now anyway independent of the competition. Also as he’s very fat they’re really showing they #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by going so far as doing both parts of the song thus ensuring only a white man gets paid for singing… and being so barrel shaped to the point you wonder if he might die before the guy with the chronic health issues.

14 Australia : Isaiah : Don’t Come Easy

Looks like a pretentious prick. Just does. Get a haircut. He looks possibly ‘gender fluid’ (without being – similar to comedians who act like they’re gay but aren’t) thus can claim to #CelebrateDiversity. He also walks like he just lost control of his bowels. A very bland song and a punchable smug face (and sadly not the only one tonight either). Also put some socks on!

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like a woman in the autumn of life dressing casual smart for work or a special occasion.

15 Greece : Demy : This is Love

Half naked male ballet dancers in a shallow pool of water. Poland went for the dad vote, Greece is going for the mum vote so it’s very much #CelebrateEquality more than #CelebrateDiversity. Another ‘the dancers are far to distracting’ performance. They’re very good though they do at times pose like they’re dancing ducks. The songs enjoyable but I think it should have been staged differently as the dancers take away too much attention. Are they implying at the end the dancers are gay lovers? Well that definitely does #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by dancing like a duck.

16 Spain : Manel Navarro : Do It For Your Lover

Hawaiian shirts. A karaoke style song very reminiscent of 1950s surfer rock. The ‘do it for your lover’ chorus – Are you telling people to be more open about their affection or telling them to let their lover ‘experiment’ when they really don’t want to? It has that vibe due to the repetition. Just do it. Just do it. Just do it for your lover. If you really loved them you’d let them put _____ in your _____ while they _____ and _____ your _____! JUST DO IT! DO IT FOR YOUR LOVER! IF YOU REALLY LOVED THEM YOU WOULD DO IT! They need to hook up with the Azerbaijan guys – they’d teach them a thing or two about doing it for your lover…

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across like the sort of people teenagers are warned to avoid when given sex-ed in school.

17 Norway : JOWST : Grab The Moment

A wannabe Daft Punk look. Oddly the guy shows his face in the pre-performance VT so the mask during the performance is a little redundant. It’s easy listening reggae which suddenly kicks into talking about how he’ll ‘kill that voice in my head’. It’s different but the sort of thing Eurovision judges react poorly to – especially as it includes the word ‘kill’ in it. It’s got a good hook but the voice sampled modulation doesn’t really add much.

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across as if your mocking the mentally ill afflicted by ‘voices in their head’ they wish they could get rid of and hiring a guy who performs in an LED mask like many other DJs right now e.g. Deadmau5.

Half Time Break:

Look it’s Vitali Klitschko – the one Ukrainian sportsman everyone definitely knows even if they don’t follow sports. The VT skit is a self appraising piece of time filling to allow the behind the scenes team can catch up if somethings started going wrong.

The trio of male models learn from last year’s presenter who is also a male model in looks and now gets to live out his power fantasies via the VT. It’s a hard life being beautiful. All the jokes, and I mean all of them, fall flat. Any more mutual self appraising during this skit and it would be the preamble to the sort of scene on a DVD sold only in ‘private shops’ and be unsuitable for broadcast at this time of day.

#CelebrateDiversity through power fantasies.

On a side note I find there is this odd English diction I only ever hear used by Eurovision presenters… I mean I hear people speaking English as their second language, at all levels of ability, a lot and it’s only here they have this distinctly odd enunciation. Is it just me? Because the ‘accent’ is always the same no matter what country the contest is held in the presenters have that exact style of diction.

#CelebrateDiversity by having all presenters use the exact same diction no matter what country they’re from.

Anyway this little skit was appalling. They should have had them just strip and do body building poses while each stood on an individual small rotating platform for women (and some men) to ogle at for a minute or two while the rest of us went to get a drink. The sad thing is I think they would have happily done it. Timur would have just to not be left backstage while the others get all the glory.

Being this beautiful isn’t a crime and means anything you say, intending to be funny, should be deemed comedy gold and passed on through the generations because people ‘want’ you. Women (and gay men and anyone in between) want you, men (and f2m transexuals) want to be you.

#CelebrateDiversity

18 United Kingdom : Lucie Jones : Never Give Up On You

She is Welsh so I am biased. It’s better than many other performances if a little safe.

#CelebrateDiversity by playing it safe as you don’t want your country coming near the bottom of the ranking like previous years. (we were top of the bottom half – That’s an achievement!)

So instead of commenting on her I’ll mention I noticed a few of the female performers have had writing on their inner right arm so when they spread their arms I feel like they could have something really inappropriate written there in script and no one would notice until it was too late though it’s probably just lyrics from a song or poem they found to be inspirational. It seems some performers had to cover their tattoos while others can show them off.

#CelebrateDiversity by covering your tattoos because you’re not a salty sea dog laying drunk on the dockside.

19 Cyprus : Hovig : Gravity

A modern pop song performed by, presumably, middle aged men. A good effort but not enough to stand out. Embarrassing dance moves too at certain points – the sort of thing I saw in nightclubs years ago performed by drunk ‘lads’ out on the pull. Another dad dancing act.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting far younger than you are (or you look far older than you are) and doing ‘cool’ drunk dad dance moves

20 Romania : Ilinca ft. Alex Florea : Yodel It!

Ilinca woof woof. A dress that’s impossibly short and …she yodels. Instant marriage material no question! A woman with that specialised a talent is the sort who isn’t going to get embarrassed easily by anything so you can have fun and do what you like with someone casting a critical eye. Then there’s yodelling and rapping all in one act! The songs fun and what with the cannons and all might just be crazy enough to do well or even win (They didn’t but it was one of the highlights of the evening).

#CelebrateDiversity through yodelling and rapping in the same song. Then think about what you’re doing with your life and what led to this.

21 Germany : Levina : Perfect Life

She has a middle aged woman’s hair cut like the BBC sports correspondent Clare Balding. The front of the dress is incredibly conservative then you see its held on by arm straps leaving the back bare and she has bare feet. Grey, grey, grey – did she base her style on Angela Merkel? The song… I’m sat here listening to it and already forgetting it. Bland. It’s perfectly bland.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing as if you’re 40 years older than you actually are.

22 Ukraine : O.Torvald : Time

A soft rock song. They’re wearing padded, pillow case shaped, tabards as if they’ve just come off their shift in the care home or prison canteen. It reminds me of the sort of bland inoffensive rock song you have over the credits of a live action Japanese film based on a manga. Then again I think Finland’s Lordi was more than the contest could take really regarding rock acts despite winning in 2006.

There needs to be a heavy metal version of Eurovision. Ghost BC representing Sweden, Lordi for Finland, a lad of Scandinavian death metal bands… it would be glorious.

I think that the host countries should just put in novelty acts or be allowed to only do the ‘while the tele-votes are being cast’ segments since they never put in potentially winning acts for fear they’ll have to host again next year and blew their budget doing it this year.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing how you want to dress… even if it involves wearing padded grey tabards no one would look good in.

23 Belgium : Blanche : City Lights

A good song performed by a 17 year old in a ball gown suffering from stage fright. The intro reminds me of a song from a while ago. She has a very Adele like tone to her voice. It’s far too subdued and the gesticulating feels forced in order to have her move a little. She has potential for the future but it feels like people will vote for her because they liked the song when it was played on the radio or out of pity for how clearly she is out of her depth here performing live to an international, if not global, audience.

#CelebrateDiversity by watching a talented teenage performer with possible stage fright taking her first steps into performing for a stadium level audience.

24 Sweden : Robin Bengtsson : I Can’t Go On

The guy has a dead eyed look to him and acts up for the camera at the start walking onto the stage rather than start on the stage like everyone else. He reminds me of Robin Thicke… he just has that aura about him. Like he touched up someone back stage just before the performance with that same blank expression while admiring himself in a mirror judging his own mid-coitus performance. The song has a 1980s beat… there are lots of retro music aspects to this year’s contestants. It just comes across as insincere. Also he has trousers which are an inch or two too short which is fashionable. The use of treadmills for the dancing is a good idea though OK GO did it 8 years ago in their music video for Here It Goes Again.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a ‘male model level’ handsome group of backing dancers and having a ‘there’s something wrong about this guy but I can’t put my finger on it’ aura.

25 Bulgaria : Kristian Kostov : Beautiful Mess

Another 17 year old. He has a punchable face as he seems arrogant. It doesn’t help he has low clung trousers, the ‘thumb through the sleeve’ under shirt and the jacket design looks like he put it on back to front as if he can’t dress himself. Looks like he loves himself. Good song and performance – and he knows it. Good potential for the future as long as his ego doesn’t get too big.

#CelebrateDiversity by accepting that they’ve given a platform to an annoyingly smug yet talented teenager with a fashion style that will be outdated by next year so you know he’ll just look all the more ridiculous by then if the trappings of fame don’t get him first.

26 France : Alma : Requiem

Woof! France never fails. Another impossibly short dress. It probably would have done better if it wasn’t the final song when everyone’s got listening fatigue. A very enjoyable song with impressive graphics to compliment it. It’s the sort of song that would do better outside the contest probably.

#CelebrateDiversity by wearing a dress that defies logic it’s so short.

Thus we got to the ‘while you go and vote’ part where they put on some performers from the host nation.

First we have Ruslana performing It’s Magical.

A chain mail dress. That has to hurt when it gets caught on her skin. It’s one of those rare occassions where the backing dancers are wearing far more than the star. I mean they look like they escaped from the set of a film adaption based on a ‘young adult’ urban fantasy novel but still…

It’s a good song though. I wonder if competition entrants have a budget limit for their staging as you would imagine they would all be to this scale if they could in order to win votes via sheer spectacle.

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like an amateur dramatic society musical adaption of a young adult novel.

Then we got ONUKA and NAONI Orchestra doing a ‘megamix’ of songs.

Electro folk music… oh dear they’ve discovered my musical niche. It’s awesome. I can’t view it objectively… I mean the ‘low budget Star Wars storm-trooper’ costumes look terrible but that’s besides the point. If you were not focusing you would swear the dancers from the Armenian entry had escaped and decided to do their own thing.

#CelebrateDiversity through Ukranian folk music instruments and electronica. Awesome.

The Votes – Judge Panels and Popular vote

Then we got all the votes. The French announcer at about 11:30 is only wearing half a jacket. To be honest they all look a little odd in different ways whether it be way too poised, too delayed in reacting, under dressed, over dressed or any number of things. The hosts insulted the UK announcer at about 32:35 saying ‘1997, the year you were born’ and though the other guy tries to recover from it playing it off saying ‘I didn’t visit that Eurovision song contest’ the insult was already delivered. Flirt with the attractive younger announcers and insult the older ones. Nice.

Then they introduced the Georgian winner of the Junior Eurovision song contest who was very preconscious, in fact annoyingly so, implying she has a ‘tiger mom’ or is from a very privileged background. The sort of child you see in American productions (especially Disney Channel’s live shows) and years later have suffered from the pitfalls of the industry (drugs, alcohol, etc). She spoke clearer English that the presenters which was hilarious however.

Followed by last years winner Jamala:

Personally her song last year was overtly political and should have been changed… but you know… There is no official video of her performance it seems as someone walked casually up onto the small stage and bared their bottom to the camera. I was looking away when it happened and thought it was just someone in the crowd… but apparently it was front and centre! It’s good she remained professional however she does look like a mum of three whose been at the wine all day and suddenly fanced a song and dance when a song comes on the radio.

Then the tele-vote tallies were shown:

Suffice to say there were a few massive upsets because of it. We, here in the UK, were one place off being in the top half. I don’t care but it seemed like a do or die situation in the coverage at the time.

Also during the event Verka Serduchka (from Eurovision 2007) appeared a few times including a ‘Verka workout’ between the judge votes and the tele-votes announcements.

We have had Lily Savage and Dame Edna Everage so I’m not bothered by drag queen acts and the humour in these skits was good physical comedy. #CelebrateDiversity with drag acts.

But in the end of course Salvador and Luísa Sobral from Portugal won.

1:50 – 2:12 “We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content…. this could be a victory for music… with people who make music that actual means something…”

Balls.

Of.

Steel.

To say that at the Eurovision of all places. The man is already a legend. Then he goes and duets with his sister later. I thought it was really nice he wanted his sister to perform it with him since she had written it and performed it when he hadn’t been available due to his poor health.

The presenters ushered him off embarrassed and then at 3:10 – 3:22 they boasted of how they love Ukraine, their motherland, then tell us how tolerant, modern and open a country they are.

Attach ‘… unlike Russia’ to each of those statements.

That was the intended subtext and you know it was despite them not mentioning Russia at all during the evening.

It was enjoyable. Not many standout performances nor many ‘zany’ novelty ones either in a similar vein to Verka as there was some crack down a few years ago on not allowing them or something which is a shame. It’s become a more po-faced annual affair because they’ve suddenly decided to take themselves far too seriously.

#CelebrateDiversity and make it an enjoyable event like it used to be rather than have a crackdown on what can or can’t be allowed, denying politics plays it’s role and just go with the flow allowing it to be the good humoured event it used to be without trying to sanitise everything to the point it’s bland. To be honest here in the UK we didn’t used to see any of it until the grand final so it was all the more special but in this day and age they show it and it makes it slightly less unique each year. Nonetheless it’s a good platform to introduce people to world music which they might not be made aware of otherwise so ultimately it’s a good thing.