Kristina gets 3 out of 5 stars in London newspaper (Updated)

Last night, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus brought to the Albert Hall a less jocular musical. But if Kristina, presented here in a one-off concert, can be a little intense, there’s still music to be thankful for.

Based on a novel, it’s the tale of a group of emigrants leaving Sweden for the US, and it all centres on the saintly wife Kristina (Helen Sjöholm).

The immigrants hope, fear and suffer vocally but it’s not an action-packed tale. The music sprawls regardless of the drama, and the lyrics spend a lot of time filling space between events.

But no ABBA-related venture would be complete without inneffably wonky lyrics, and Andersson’s music (Ulvaeus contributed only as lyricist) can incite tingles, combining the familiar soundscape of Eighties musicals with hints of Baltic and American folk.

There are also a couple of stonking tunes, the best being Kristina’s Gesthemane moment You Have To Be There, which Sjöholm makes the evening’s highlight.

True, the relentless portentousness can grate, or lead to comic disparities of sound and subject matter: witness the violent number about nits at sea. But few last night were expecting subtlety.

Let’s see if it make the West End.

Review by Kieron Quirke.

58 Replies to “Kristina gets 3 out of 5 stars in London newspaper (Updated)”

  1. @Lee: absolutely spot on!
    "In some ways, having it in English is like having the windows cleaned in front of your favourite view."
    Now I can see through those windows more clearly and understand the story in it’s entirety and all because of the english version.

    Despite being blown away at the RAH and listening to the Carnegie CD almost non-stop since the day it was released, on balance I think I still love the original Swedish score just that little bit more…

    How I wish I had been at the Minnesota concerts!

    Phil

  2. Glenn said "Opera aficionados would not consider it opera and musical theater fans would not be inclined to pay opera prices for musical theater."

    There are certainly dangers in taking Kristina to an opera house instead of the theatre, but I think they are less insoluble than those in trying to make this a commercial theatre success. Also an "operatic" solution would probably involve adding to the work (especially with extra music) rather than cutting it.

    If it isn’t a success in the theatre, it won’t get performed except for occasional tours. In the repertoire of an opera house, it could probably be subsidised.

    Chris said of the Royal Albert Hall "The problem is worst at contemporary concerts with amplified sound; there are some really bad spots". In my experience that’s correct, the sound at classical Prom concerts isn’t too unclear, even with vocal/choral works.

    Whoever sings it in the opera house (should it go there) will be pretty much expected to sing it without an (attached) microphone. From the "Trettonsdag" concerts broadcast on SVT over the years, Helen certainly seems to need no microphone.

    All that said, I don’t think the songs even here have exactly been written with operatic voices in mind, where the singer can use vibrato to throw their voice to fill a hall. Was amplification (or lack of it) a problem in the original Swedish (presumably small theatre) production?

  3. Is the CD being played on the radio? Even Elaine Paige seems to have stopped. Wogan would have been ideal but not sure about Chris Evans, maybe Ken Bruce. Just wondering if we should write in and make requests. Not many reviews on Amazon yet either, though most of us may have got the CD elsewhere as Amazon had stock problems for a while.

    Lee

  4. As Decca couldn’t even provide Dress Circle in London with a full window display to showcase the release it would be a wonder if they have even sent promo copies to the radio stations to play even if the stations do play "live" recordings.
    Full marks to Londons Dress Circle (for thoses who have not been its a hidden away gem of a shop with cds, books and dvds of every musical theatre show from the greatest sucesses to the barely known, competative prices too.) It does seem to have a wide range of customers and can impact a scores sucess by highlighting to its vast customer base so for Decca to leave it to have photcopied covers as the display to promote Kristina is a major failure of their promotional team.
    I suspect the best way to get Kristina to public attention will be for Benny and Bjorn to offer "you have to be there" to Susan Boyle as the "show tune" for her next album – she did wonders for Les Mis!

  5. If they can’t drum up interest in a full production in NYC I think they should consider doing another run in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis critics LOVED the musical when they performed it in Swedish in the concert form back in the 1990’s. And the community has a great love of music and theater, and is well known for first class quality productions. The community also has a great love of it’s Swedish heritage (it’s the home of the American Swedish Institute) and is the origin of the story. I’m sure they could drum up financial backers in the community.

  6. Kristina is an amazing musical. I saw the Swedish version back in Gothenburg and it was really good. Yes, not as light hearted as other things showing in the west end as stated here by earlier commentators, but so what? The story is good and the melodies are beautiful. Really keeping my fingers crossed that it does make it to the west end.

  7. Yeah, I know musicals are more successful than operas; but when people attend a musical they don’t expect to see an opera. But that’s what Kristina is, effectively. It draws in audiences that are expecting a musical and who are, frankly, often not musically sophisticated enough to appreciate what they’re hearing.

    Kristina needs to be recast and billed as a real opera: no more pussyfooting around. The first step is to dispense with the four-minute prologue and write an actual overture. After that, though, I don’t think much more tinkering would be needed.

  8. Kristina is operatic in parts but a long way from full blown Opera. Kristina has its own style and its this which should be promoted rather than trying to shoehorn it into a west end or broadway musical format or trying to say that normal people are not musically sophisticated to appreciate it.
    Kristina already has a sucessful stage format, it cannot just be the fact it is Swedish based which made it such a sucess in Sweden or evry countries top musical would be about its homeland. From the pictures and reviews I saw of the original production it was unique and must have been powerful in dramatic preformance and music. I do have major reservations about the current english version as it is so clearly a translation and you are listerning to in some cases clunky lyrics rather than being emotionally involved in the score and story. However the original Swedish versions still carrys that passion even if I did find the music uplifting before I found out the story contained so much despair.
    As many have suggested a European or International tour is more likely to create the acceptance of Kristina as a unique and stunning work which could then lead to West end/Broadway productions later. Benny and Bjorn somehow got the original production together and were brave enough to go with a simple yet powerful vision unlike many other stage shows – its strange that for the international version that they seem to be swayed so much by others to change it. Its hard to remember but Les Mis with its revolving stage, many character deaths and downbeat story was considered radial back in 1986 in ints staging, theres no reason why Kristina with the original production values could not break through.
    Kristina is different to anything else I have in my CD collection or heard yet its power and passion hit me from the start – if Benny and Bjorn can create the story and lyrics in English to match the music then it will affect ALL who hear regardless of their normal music interests.

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