After some surprising upsets in the second of two Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals, Norwegian fans of the massive event were turning their attention back to their own candidate, Didrik Solli-Tangen. He’ll be among those singing in Saturday’s grand finale, after months of hype.
Thursday night’s semi-final showed just how misguided that hype can be. Sweden’s entry in the annual song contest, Anna Bergendahl, had seemed wildly popular and many Scandinavian newspapers predicted she’d even win on Saturday. Instead, she didn’t survive Thursday’s cut, pushing Sweden out of the finals for the first time in years.
Lithuania’s entry, a boy band known as InCulto, had also got Thursday’s semi-final off to a rousing start, and seemed to win points not only for their catchy tune but for suddenly dropping their plaid trousers and appearing before millions of TV viewers in sequined boxer shorts. It was classic Eurovision hilarity, but they also ended up among the losers on Thursday, along with the Netherlands, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Switzerland.
The 10 countries with performers moving on to Saturday’s final otherwise was heavily eastern European: Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijain, Romania and Armenia all made the cut, along with Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, and Denmark.
They will now compete against Tuesday’s semi-finalists, plus the countries guaranteed a spot in the finals: Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain and last year’s winner, in this case, Norway.
Didrik Solli-Tangen has thus avoided having to compete in the semi-finals but he’s been active on other stages for the past two weeks, since Eurovision artists and their support crews started arriving in Oslo. He’s been mingling with his competitors, even romantically linked to some of them, and keen to belt out his song My Heart is Yours on several occasions. He says he never gets tired of it.
Solli-Tangen is 22 years old and a student at Oslo’s prestigious Barratt-Due Institute of Music, the same school that nurtured Norway’s landslide Eurovision winner last year, Alexander Rybak. While Rybak studied violin and piano, though, Solli-Tangen has concentrated on opera singing, and teacher Anne Nyborg has called him “the best student” in his class.
He’s decided to take next year off from school, reported newspaper Aftenposten recently, to “strike while the iron’s hot” in his budding musical career. He has two years remaining in the Institute’s program, then likely will take three more years at an opera school. Even though he managed to do well on recent exams, despite all the necessary preparations for Eurovision, it’s not easy to combine serious studies with network-building and concert engagements, and Solli-Tangen told Aftenposten “it would probably be stupid” not to take the year off now.
He comes from the relatively small city of Porsgrunn, about a two-hour drive south of Oslo, and appears unusually self-confident. He has carefully controlled media coverage since winning Norway’s run-up to Eurovision (called Melodi Grand Prix) and is goal-oriented. Last week he sang with José Carreras when the opera star performed in Hamar. NRK’s Melodi Grand Prix host Per Sundnes claimed that Solli-Tangen “sang Carreras out of the window.”
That’s what Solli-Tangen aimed to do on Saturday, hoping to win Eurovision but also just clearly enjoying the ride. His song is “really demanding,” concedes its Norwegian composer Hanne Sørvaag, starting out slowly as a pop song and building up to a powerful aria. “Pop music and opera are two very different things,” said Solli-Tangen. “In the start, My Heart is Yours shall not be opera. That’s what’s difficult.”
As Eurovision’s Norwegian hosts have said repeatedly during this week’s semi-finals, “May the best song win.” For those not interested in Saturday’s final at 9pm on NRK1, there are plenty of alternatives in town, including an organ concert in Oslo’s newly refurbished cathedral downtown (Domkirken) featuring pop music from the early 1700s. But with nearly 1 million Norwegians tuning in to Thursday’s semi-final, and millions more expected to do so all over Europe on Saturday, NRK wasn’t worrying about its ratings.