Mixed reviews for palace concert

King Harald and Queen Sonja opened up the Royal Palace for another Christmas concert this year, but it didn’t generate entirely positive reaction. Meanwhile, the youngest heir to the throne has been making some holiday appearances on TV before most of the royal family moved up to the monarch’s private retreat Kongsseteren, to spend Christmas in the hills above Oslo.

Queen Sonja making her welcome speech at last week’s Christmas concert at the palace, which was taped and then aired over the weekend on NRK. Her red dress turned orange under the TV lights. At left, Marius Borg Høiby, son of Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who was sick and didn’t attend the concert. At right, King Harald. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The king and queen opened their doors for the first Christmas concert last year, in connection with the release of a CD aimed at raising money for the charitable fund run by their son, Crown Prince Haakon, and his wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Now the palace staff and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) apparently want to make the Christmas concert a new tradition, televising it nationwide on NRK.

Criticism arose, however, because no charity was involved this year and some viewed the concert as little more than a PR stunt. “This year’s concert generates nothing more than PR for the monarchy, viewers for NRK and potential sales for the artists that participated,” wrote culture journalist Bernt Erik Pedersen in a commentary in newspaper Dagsavisen.

Queen Sonja sat between King Harald and the youngest heir to the throne, her granddaughter Princess Ingrid Alexandra, who was making another appearance on NRK on Christmas Eve morning. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Queen Sonja, in her opening remarks at the concert, claimed the idea was to invite some of the people, many of them young, whom she and the king had met during their travels around Norway during the past year. Palace staff wrote on the monarchy’s official website that they also wanted, by broadcasting the concert nationwide, “to invite the Norwegian people into their home to share a good pre-Christmas experience of fellowship, inclusiveness and warmth.”

Viewers and the invited guests could at least see the palace’s main ballroom,where they listened to performers including Tuva Syvertsen, Solveig Slettahjell, Kurt Nilsen, Amina Sewali, Ida Jenshus, Amund Maarud and Johannes Weisser, all of them singing Christmas-related songs to the accompaniment of NRK’s orchestra.

The event was mostly ignored by some newspapers including Aftenposten, covered uncritically by newspaper VG and trounced by Dagsavisen. It wrote that the royal family may need some good PR, after Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s controversial trip to India this autumn to take care of a baby borne by a surrogate mother for friends in Norway, and recent press criticism of a lack of openness regarding royal finances. Pedersen suggested such things raise the royal family over society’s laws. He also criticized the artists who participated, calling it a “political act”: “There’s something weak about artists if their highest goal is to be able to play inside the palace and hail the king with a cap in their hands.” Pedersen didn’t have much positive to say about the monarchy either, calling it “unfair and outdated … built on an undemocratic principle of power that’s inherited.”

Mette-Marit, whom palace staff said was ill, didn’t attend either the concert or a scheduled appearance of the crown couple’s daughter, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, on another NRK TV program to be aired on the morning of Christmas Eve. It’s the first time the young heir to the throne, now age nine, will respond to questions on nationwide TV, with her father Crown Prince Haakon stepping in for Mette-Marit to be by their daughter’s side.

The royals planned to spend Christmas Eve at their timber lodge in the hills at Voksenkollen, where there’s now lots of snow. King Harald, Queen Sonja, Haakon, Mette-Marit and their children will share the traditional Christmas Eve dinner before attending a church service on Christmas Day at Holmenkollen Chapel. The king and queen’s daughter, Princess Martha Louise, has moved to London with her family but were due to be home in Norway for Christmas, at the home of her in-laws in Moss.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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