Benny Andersson interview (Part 1)

Benny Andersson, December 2013 in Stockholm talking exclusively to icethesite.
Benny Andersson, December 2013 in Stockholm talking exclusively to icethesite.

Happy Christmas/Season’s greetings to all icethesite visitors. Huge thanks to everyone who visits and supports the site and I hope you will enjoy this opportunity to hear directly from Benny about the year ahead. A year dominated by the film ‘The Circle’ but with a few goodies and potential goodies for music fans too. Enjoy…

‘Kristina från Duvemåla’ to be staged in Gothenburg and Stockholm

Following months of speculation, it has been announced that Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Lars Rudolfsson’s, Kristina från Duvemåla will premiere at the Götesborgs Operan (Gothenburg Opera House), on 25 October 2014.

The show will then transfer to Stockholm’s Cirkus theatre in September 2015.

'Kristina' will open in Gothenburg in October 2015
‘Kristina’ will open in Gothenburg in October 2015

‘Kristina’, a musical version of Vilhelm Moberg’s classic Swedish epic The Emigrants, follows the stuggles faced by a young couple, Kristina and Karl Oskar, as they emigrate with their family and friends from Småland to North America in the mid-1800s. It originally premièred in Malmo in 1995 and by the time it closed in Stockholm in 1999 had been seen by over 1 million people.

The most recent staging of ‘Kristina‘ opened at the Swedish National Theatre, Helsinki, in February 2012. Directed by Lars Rudolfsson, and starring Maria Ylipää as Kristina, Robert Noack as Karl Oskar, Birthe Wingren as Ulrika and Oskar Nilsson as Robert, the production played to great success until it closed in May 2013.  It is this same team that will come together again to recreate their roles in Gothenburg and Stockholm.

“After five years of performances in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm in the 1990’s and the recent sojourn in Helsinki, it feels great for ‘Kristina‘ to be on the Swedish stage again,” said Benny.

Leif Henriksson of the production company, Blixten & Co., said:  “It is a great honor to work with such a modern classic as ‘Kristina’. We look forward to providing Gothenburg and Stockholm with the biggest-ever Swedish musical experience.”

When ‘Kristina’ originally opened in Gothenburg, it was the first musical to be staged in the then-new Opera House, and it is the most successful production of its kind ever mounted at the theatre.

The musical will open just in time for the building’s 20th anniversary, and the artistic director of opera and drama, Stephen Langridge is delighted. “With Götesborgs Operan celebrating its 20th anniversary, it feels great to be able to present ‘Kristina’ again with a new generation of artists,” he said.

Tickets for the Gothenburg production are expected to go on sale in March 2014.

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Helsinki says farewell and thank you to ‘Kristina’

Maria Ylipää and Robert Noack after the final performance - Photo: Niklas Tallqvist
Maria Ylipää and Robert Noack after the final performance – Photo: Niklas Tallqvist

The cast of Kristina från Duvemåla took to the stage at Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern for the final time yesterday afternoon, and the musical’s creators, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Lars Rudolfsson were all there to watch, along with Görel Hanser and Anders Eljas.

Although none of the production team appeared on stage during the curtain calls, afterwards, Benny described the performance as: “Really, really good. The actors were still focused after 190 shows. And how the music worked between them and the orchestra, the dynamic has really developed a lot. They played with a full heart.”

Talking to Finnish newspaper Ilka-Sanomat, Björn said he considered Svenska Teatern to be a wonderful theatre and their production of Kristina world-class. He went on to say that he is very positive about possible future collaborations with the theatre.

Director Lars Rudolfsson felt saddened by the fact that the show has reached the end of its run. He said, “The team has been together since November 2011. People become friends and the show becomes your whole life.”

Lars has visited Svenska Teatern around 15 times since Kristina’s premiere on 29 February 2012.

Helen Sjöholm and Anders Ekborg, who portrayed Kristina and Karl Oskar in the original Swedish production, were also in the audience.

Anders told the Swedish-language Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, that Kristina had changed his life and admitted that he had been moved to tears during yesterday’s show. Helen too said she had loved the performance, although noticed that some of the lyrics had changed somewhat.

The production’s assistant director, Maria Sid, flew to China after yesterday’s finale to begin work on a new musical project but has revealed that although she cannot say where or when, she does have plans to collaborate with Benny and Björn again in the future.

Now that the show is over the actors all have new roles to fulfil…

Maria Ylipää, (Kristina), is expecting her second child in the summer. She said that during her 15 months in the role, she learnt to feel safe on stage but that she had recently found it increasingly difficult to jump about as she could constantly feel her baby moving around. However, she did not consider it a bad thing that her baby had grown to the tones of Benny Andersson. She did not reveal her plans for after her maternity leave is over.

Robert Noack (Karl Oskar), said that the role had developed his voice and that he felt he had become a singer. His next show will be at Västmanlands Theatre in Vesterås.

Thanks! The message from the Svenska Teatern website

Oskar Nilsson (Robert), said he was grateful for the stage experience that Kristina had given him and couldn’t quite comprehend that it was all over. He said he felt empty and sad but will now move on to new work in Norrköping.

Birthe Wingren (Ulrika), said that emotions had run very high during the final performance. Birthe is a permanent member of Svenska Teatern’s ensemble and will perform next in the theatre’s musical production of The Jungle Book which opens in the autumn.

Kristina has had a huge impact on Svenska Teatern’s image and status as Sweden’s national stage in Finland. When the production opened it became a landmark in the theatre’s almost 150-year history.

Kristina reached out to a larger audience than ever before, (38 percent of everyone who saw the musical had never previously visited the Swedish Theatre), and the reviews and feedback from the audiences have been overwhelmingly positive. According to a recent survey Svenska Teatern has now become the fourth most famous cultural institution in Finland.

Theatre director Johan Storegård said: “It feels good when the theatre is doing well. Kristina‘s success has been a historic event. Nothing like this has ever been seen in Finland. We have put Svenska Teatern on the international map and strengthened the bridge to Sweden. It is difficult to stage a better musical,” he concluded.

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Kristina från Duvemåla Jönköping concert

A concert version of 'Kristina från Duvemåla' will take place in Jönköping this September
A concert version of ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’ will take place in Jönköping this September

Following on from Kristina från Duvemåla‘s hugely successful run at Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern, the show will be performed as a concert version again this September at the Kinnarps Arena in Jönköping.

(L-R) Sanna Nielsen (Kristina), Bruno Mitsogiannis (Robert) and Christer Nerfont (Karl Oskar)
(L-R) Sanna Nielsen (Kristina), Bruno Mitsogiannis (Robert) and Christer Nerfont (Karl Oskar)

In the role of ‘Kristina’ will be Sanna Neilsen. Christer Nerfont who once played ‘Robert’ in the Stockholm Cirkus production will play ‘Karl Oskar’ and Marianne Morck will return to the role she helped originate ‘Fina-Kajsa’. ‘Robert’ is due to be played by Bruno Mitsogiannis, whilst Åsa Fång will play ‘Ulrika’.

Anders Eljas will conduct the Jönköpings Sinfonietta and a large choir comprised of singers from around Sweden.

Concert versions of Kristina från Duvemåla in Swedish have previously been performed in Sweden, of course, and also Minnesota. English language concerts have been performed in London’s Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York – a recording from the latter venue was issued on CD.

Tickets for the Jönköping concert which takes place on Saturday 7 September, priced from SEK 350 to 650 are on sale from 0900 on 7 May and available from Julius Biljettservice.

Related links:

‘Kristina från Duvemåla’ news update

Helsinki's Svenska Teatern, soon to say goodbye to 'Kristina' will host 'Mamma Mia!' from September 2014
Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern, soon to say goodbye to ‘Kristina’ will host ‘Mamma Mia!’ from September 2014

The Helsinki production of Kristina från Duvemåla at Svenska Teatern will close on 23 May, and during a recent visit to Finland to promote ABBA The Musuem, Björn Ulvaeus confirmed that he will be there for the final performance.

Since Kristina‘ premiered at the Swedish National theatre on 29 February 2012, it has consistently played to 98% capacity audiences and by the time it closes, it will have been seen by more than 100,000 people. Although on 21 February this year, the theatre’s website announced a handful of cast changes, the actors in the lead roles have remained unaltered throughout the show’s 190 performances.

As previously published on icethesite’s Facebook page, there is now a video (in Swedish) containing some backstage and rehearsal footage from Svenska Teatern, as well as several musical clips.

In an interview for Finnish radio on 6 March, Maria Yilpää (who plays Kristina), spoke of how she will miss the role that has become so dear to her. “I will surely cry during the final performance,” she remarked. More recently, Maria has commented that after the birth of her child in August, she will, if necessary, be willing to travel outside Finland in order to fulfil offers of work from abroad.

Last October, Björn told the Swedish press that he anticipated a fully staged production of Kristina från Duvemåla would return to Sweden within two years and in February, Benny Andersson said in a Swedish radio interview: “It is being discussed. It is very possible.” However, although speculation regarding a potential venue and timing is rife, no official announcement has as yet been made.

In early September, the Swedish Choir Association, Körsam, will stage a concert version of ‘Kristina’ as the finale to their annual Choir Expo. The concert which will be held in Jönköping, will feature an ensemble of upto 500 choristers.

Thrilled by the huge success of ‘Kristina’ in Helsinki, Benny and Björn are keen to continue the collaboration with Svenska Teatern, and it has recently been confirmed that a new production of Mamma Mia! will open at the theatre in September 2014. Björn has said that although neither he nor Benny will take an active role in the production, he would like to be involved in the casting and will therefore be in Helsinki for the audition process.

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The ‘Friends Arena’ gets inaugurated with a little help from Benny and Björn’s music

Last evening in the Solna Municipality, Stockholm County around 45000 people witnessed the inauguration of Sweden’s new national stadium the Friends Arena. A huge show, the biggest and most lavish production ever mounted in Sweden was presented to the crowd and the millions watching on SVT. Unfortunately, according to various reports there were sound issues in the arena, with many performers unable to hear themselves clearly.

The show has devised by Colin Nutley. Bjorn and Lena were in attendance as was Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel.

I Can See Myself In You cover
Written by Tobias Gustafsson and Björn Ulvaeus

Among the live performers were Roxette, Kalle Moraeus and Tommy Körberg (who closed the show with Anthem from CHESS – link appears below) and who also performed his latest single, a duet with young Swedish singer Danny Saucedo written by Björn and Tobias Gustavsson called I Can See Myself In You. (Tobias and Björn have hinted at future collaborations as well.)

Also performing were stars of the Helsinki production of Kristina från Duvemåla Maria Ylipää, Robert Noack and Oskar Nilsson. They told the Swedish press that they had been rehearsing during the week running up to last night’s show and then hopping on a plane back to Helsinki for the evening performance of Kristina.

Below are some pictures from the evening and below that is a link to YouTubey where you can watch the show in HD. Björn appears at about: 0:35, the Finnish cast of Kristina at about 47:10 and Anthem by Tommy comes along at approximately 1:28:45. (Thanks Niclas)

Opening the Friends Arena, the largest stadium in the Nordic region and Europe’s 2nd largest indoor arena

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Björn Ulvaeus: “I imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me”

Björn Ulvaeus

Last year Björn wrote an article called ‘Även ateister kan förundras’ (Even atheists can marvel) for Swedish magazine Sans.

In the article, he drew on his beliefs as a Humanist, as a music listener and as a person who has experienced what it means to love, to argue that beauty and wonder are not solely the preserve of the religious-minded.

Just published in Sweden is a brand new Sans Magazine article in which Björn reflects on his recent experiences of becoming reacquainted with Kristina från Duvemåla and how, despite the musical having a deeply religious central character, it has only helped reaffirm his status as a ‘freethinker’.

Read my translation of the article below:

Björn Ulvaeus: Thanks to the Svenska Teatern in Helsinki, I have had the opportunity to become familiar again with the musical Kristina från Duvemåla. It premiered at the end of February and being on set was, like last time in the 1990s, entirely fantastic and stimulating.

Once again I was struck how tenderly the author Vilhelm Moberg depicted the profound believer Kristina. Sympathy with the lonely frontier wives out there in the wilderness is self-evident for him, and I felt the same thing when I wrote the lyrics.

It got me thinking about why some people hold close to a dear religious belief, while for others it is impossible.

Vilhelm Moberg places Kristina alone under a starry sky in her singular heart-rending moment of doubt. For the first time in her life, she is not sure whether God really exists. A number of crucial events have meant that she has reached this pivotal moment. In the musical we have her singing:

Du måste finnas, du måste
– You must be there, you must

Hur kan du då överge mig
– How can you abandon me?

Jag vore ingenstans…
– I would be nowhere…

Jag vore ingenting om du inte fanns
– I would be nothing if you did not exist

Kristina stares out into the infinite, icy abyss and feels that despite everything, God is out there. He must be out there because she needs him so much.

I believe that this applies to billions of people in the world; because the need is so great, there must be an answer to it as if the needs is itself based on the theory of supply and demand but on ideological grounds.

“The human need for consolation is insatiable,” wrote Stig Dagerman, and therefore he could never become a happy person, because ” I have no belief and because of that I can never be a happy man. Because happy men should never fear that their lives drift meaninglessly toward the certainty of death.”

Is it the case that evolution has seen to it that some of us have brains that are predisposed to accept religious impulses without questioning them?

Hopefully, neuroscientific brain mapping will eventually provide answers to what religion is.

While others, like me, have an icy-cold scepticism, a part of me that like a cobra strikes down on those impulses and begs the inevitable question: “Is it actually right to think like this? Yeah, I know it would be nice if it were true, but… ”

As everyone knows, the brain is able to put us into a state of dreaming and so one could imagine that religious revelations, of the type that Mohammed and Paul are said to have had, is just the brain playing tricks on us. Hopefully, neuroscientific brain mapping will eventually provide answers to what religion is, and on to whether God exists or not.

If it is the case that there are people who deeply and from their very core, honestly and without any doubt, feel, know, that there is a God and that he cares about them, then it follows that those people must be happier than others.

They are to be congratulated as long as they do not allow decisions made as a result of their convictions impact others.

Kristina gets her unyielding faith back, convinced that she and Karl Oskar are destined to meet again on the other side:

I natt, ska en stjärna tändas, den ska skina klar
– Tonight, there will be a new star, it shall shine so bright

Den lyser dej väg, du och jag, vi mötas åter
– It lights up your way, you and I, we will meet in the ever after

Beskyddet av en ängel som står vakt
– Protection from an angel on his guard

Det vet du att jag har
– You know that I will have that

Jag vill att du ska minnas vad jag sagt
– I implore that you shall recall what I said…

Jag är i gott bevar
– I am in good keeping

I find myself also staring into the boundless, icy abyss and imagine a universe that does not care the slightest bit about me.

Related links:


Kristina från Duvemåla trailer released

A fantastic trailer for the Svenska Teatern version of Kristina från Duvemåla has been released featuring many of the most memorable moments from the show.

Hot on the heels of the trailer being issued comes news in the latest Svenska Teatern newsletter that tickets for Spring 2013 will be released later this year, meaning that the show will not close at the end of the current run (21 December). Great news all round!