Eurovision Song Contest starts with first semifinal

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Lithuanian pop-rock band The Roop gets the Eurovision Song Contest party started Tuesday night with the fittingly titled song “Discoteque” and its opening lines: “Ok, I feel the rhythm. Something’s going on here.”

After missing a year due to the global pandemic, the immensely popular contest opens with the first semifinal featuring 16 acts vying for 10 places up for grabs in Saturday’s grand finale.

The competition featuring 39 national songs from nations across Europe as well as Australia and Israel is one of the largest events staged in Europe since the global pandemic began and comes as the continent begins to tentatively ease coronavirus lockdown measures.

A crowd of 3,500 — tested ahead of time — will be allowed into the Ahoy arena. The number represents a fraction of its capacity to watch the performances live.

A total of 20 winners from semifinals Tuesday and Thursday will join the so-called big five of Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom along with host nation the Netherlands in Saturday’s final.

Australia’s act, Montaigne, is the only performer not attending the event in Rotterdam because of coronavirus restrictions. Instead she participates in the semifinal with a recorded live performance.

Last on stage Tuesday is one of the bookmakers’ favorites for the title, 18-year-old Maltese singer Destiny. Other acts showing strongly in the bookies’ odds are Italian rock band Maneskin and French singer Barbara Pravi. They enter the musical fray in Saturday night’s final.

At the other end of the age scale from Destiny is veteran Belgian band Hooverphonic, featuring the oldest performer at this year’s event, 61-year-old Raymond Geerts.

Despite a tight regime of testing, hygiene and social distancing, organizers didn’t manage to completely keep COVID-19 out. A member of Poland’s delegation and one from the Iceland team tested positive in recent days.

Delegations from Malta and Romania were staying in the same hotel and all underwent precautionary testing that came back negative, allowing them to take part in Tuesday’s semifinal.