Former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus turned to an epic series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg about the plight of 19th century Swedish emigrants in America as the source for their epic, four-hour musical Kristina, which had its premiere in Malmö in 1995. The compression of 1,800 pages of narrative into a single evening necessitates some radical condensation, but the reviews of that production testify that it was a powerfully effective, coherent, and moving experience. Featuring a large cast and chorus accompanied by a full orchestra, the musical is a serious and thoughtful take on a panoramic drama that spans the lifetime of its principals. This version of the music from a semi-staged production at Carnegie includes 35 songs and lasts nearly two and a half hours. The actions between the songs are briefly summarized, so it's possible to follow the story easily, and the spoken interludes are so skillfully underscored that the performance has a seamless continuity that keeps it from seeming merely like a collection of excerpts from a larger work. Andersson's consistently lyrical writing is richly varied and effectively evokes the many moods -- yearning, romance, patriotism, religious devotion, intimate reflection, dramatic conflict, humor, and grief -- of the sprawling book. The music is always dignified, without resorting to the easy pop sound that was the lingua franca of many American musicals from the last decades of the 20th century. The English lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Herbert Kretzmer are occasionally facile, but for the most part move the story along well. Helen Sjöholm, who created the title role in the original Swedish production, is again the star, and she handles the English translation with passion and absolute assurance. Louise Pitre delivers an outstandingly vivid performance as Ulrike. The remainder of the cast is very fine, with strong voices and intense, thoughtful characterizations. The orchestra, led Paul Gemignani, plays Andersson's inventive score with crisp professionalism. The sound of the live performance is clean and well-balanced, occasionally punctuated with enthusiastic applause.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2