Serbia's Marija Serifovic has kicked off the day's semifinal rehearsals in Hartwall, greeted by a clutch of fans from both Serbia and abroad, who had joined press in the hall to watch the first performance on the Eurovision stage. An amazing reception ensured that the day could not have had a better start.
A hot, burning sun fills the stage behind Marija and her singers, and deep reds dominate the presentation from start to finish. Marija herself appeared on stage for the rehearsal in a classic smart look: white and black shirt patterned shirt with black trousers, and the trademark black glasses. She is joined by five female backing vocalists, who already appear to be in costume – white shirts, black waistcoats and trousers, and grey caps.
The backing singers begin at the back of the stage, turned away from the audience; Marija walks up to centre stage to begin the song, and the vocalists join her gradually during the song, holding hands, and ultimately placing their hands on the singer for the big build. The whole effect is very understated, but for that reason, extremely powerful – all the movement on stage is very measured, very reserved, and the colours are stark black, whites and red throughout, but the power of the song and of Marija's vocal itself create an amazing contrast which sends shivers down the spine. The effect is almost one of a religious ceremony, which is appropriate to the lyrics of Molitva (Prayer).
Marija's voice is in amazing form from the first minute, and the first full run through won excited applause from the press and fans in the hall, which had already begun to fill out in anticipation of her appearance. Certainly, Serbia has had the most fan presence of the rehearsals so far, judging by the reactions and the flags behind waved from the press enclosure, and the applause continued after each run through. Marija was graceful in accepting this, acknowledging the assembled crowd with a wave and a smile.
The general consensus in the hall is that Marija hardly requires a rehearsal to perfect the song vocally; weeks of touring and a heap of talent have ensured that the performance is nailed. The delegation have stuck to a completely honest, simple performance, and if initial reactions are anything to go by, the song is one of the safest in the semi.
Click here for the Serbia rehearsal photo gallery
The Serbia delegation initiated the conference explaining they bring a message from Serbia – a message of love. With that the entire delegation broke into an a capella rendition of Molitva. The symbol of the song is clasped hands – like a prayer – it symbolises love and everything important to the world.
After introducing the backing singers behind the platform, the Head of Delegation introduced Marija – who said she was glad to represent Serbia the first time in the Contest – and the third time – in the contest (one time as Yugoslavia, one time as Serbia-Montenegro and now as the first time as Serbia)
Fred Bronson of Billboard Magazine asked about the Russian language version of the song. The team indicated that it was not difficult to create with the help of OGAE Russia who sent them a beautiful translation. Of course Serbia also has slavic roots. While the composer learned Russian in school – Marija didn't speak Russian at all so he said that the pronunciation might not be the best. Marija disagreed saying it was not hard for her to learn the Russian phonetically. She thinks the Russian is the best (after the Finnish and English versions).
" Serbia is a weird little country, but it's mine, and I love it," Marija said when she was asked about the Serbian national final. She thinks winning in the Serbian national selection is harder then winning at the Song Contest.
While music is the biggest part of her life, Marija said she enjoys Sony PlayStation, and she used to play tennis actively – but she's given that up while she focuses on music. "I hope to make music for at least 40 years, and after that enjoy some island with my husband and children and dogs," she said to the delight of the whole delegation.
Marija declined to sing the Russian version of the song, but promised to perform it during the next press conference after studying the lyrics sheet. Instead they broke into a beautiful rendition of the song centered around the word destiny.
A rep from the fan club in Germany said he is disappointed by the simple choreography, asking if they would work to change it before the next rehearsal. The choreographer answered directly that the song is powerful and they want to keep the staging simple – "it's too good of a song to overwhelm it with stage tricks."
Marija's current album is called Bez ljubavi which is "Without Love". She said she that she was "without love" when she created the album, and she is "without love" now.
"Find me something," she asked the assembled press to laughter all around. "Leave you rphone numbers. Now."