25 September 2009

KRISTINA in Concert at Carnegie Hall

When I had "studied" abroad in London, my Drama Crit (I think that's what the class was called...we saw plays, and talked about them) professor put a ban on the word "boring" when describing a play we saw.  The rational was that "boring" was a cop-out word that students would hide behind without having to come up with anything more specific to say.  I have tried to follow this maxim throughout life, in addition to eliminating "um" and "like" from my vernacular.

Um, like, without using "boring" I'll have a hard time describing KRISTINA.

To be fair, I expected this to be the case.  After all, KRISTINA is about a community that emigrates from Sweden to Minnesota.  In 1850.  That's the type of thing you expect to be long, slow moving, incredibly earnest, and most likely, pretentious.  So why would I attend this 2-night only concert event at Carnegie Hall in the first place?  Because KRISTINA was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the BB of ABBA.  I really, REALLY like ABBA.  And though I ultimately think CHESS never adds up to less than the sum of its parts, any show that brings "Nobody's Side" to the universe can be all bad.

And KRISTINA wasn't all bad.  Part of what hindered it, no doubt, was the concert presentation.  Though I can't imagine sitting through a longer version of the show, the transitions were most awkward, with all sorts of plot points being yada-yada'd.  For example, Kristina's husband sings a moving ballad about not wanting her to die when she contracts scurvy on the boat from Sweden.  Cut to, Swedish peasants (including a now robustly healthy Kristina) singing about the charming city folk at Battery Park.  Previous to that, there is a bit of narration in which we learn that one of Kristina's daughters dies from eating too much porridge.  Huh?  In the second act someone comes back from the gold rush with a bag of money. Kristina's husband (and the ensemble) to sing something about it being "Wildcat money", which I guess means it's no good.  I actually think that song might make sense, I just didn't understand a single word Russell Watson said or sang.  Anyway, the poor kid with the Wildcat Money dies in between songs not long after.  They also sing about lice, a new stove, miscarriages, trees, flowers, and whatever the ensemble said (also had trouble hearing their words).

Much of the music was recicative and/or a mediocre version of "The Mountain Duet" from CHESS.  But there a few nice moments.  The orchestra, led by Paul Gemignani, was, of course, excellent throughout.  Kevin Odekrik, as someone's younger brother (he was the one with that Wildcat money) sings a pleasant song in Act I comparing his restless spirit to a stream.  I said it was pleasant, not original.  Louise Pitre as Kristina's mother/a former prostitute (I think) had a couple of songs to sing.  I didn't think they were all that interesting, but she was great, and really sold that death-by-porridge-overdose narration.  But the highlight of the evening was whenever Helen Sjöholm opened her mouth.  She's a big deal in Sweden and, now, she's a big deal here.  About a third of the audience gave her a standing ovation after her big Act II number "You Have to Be There".  Here is a demo of that song she recorded for the BBC.  The singing starts 1m15s in.  Her voice is simultaneously deep and warm and bright and stirring.  Live, in Carnegie Hall, the performance was legitimately thrilling.

(Sidebar: At some point Emily Skinner/Alice Ripley also sang this song.  They do a nice job.)

 Here is Helen singing what 90% of the audience wishes they were hearing her sing last night, something from CHESS


  1. Much of the music was recicative and/or a mediocre version of "The Mountain Duet" from CHESS ??? You are soooooooooo wrong!!!!! "Kristina från Duvemåla" is a masterpiece - even better than "Chess"! - PeterH

  2. Me and my wife attended the Kistina consert the first night at Carnegie Hall. We cried from the first song to the last. Never before have I been so touched by music. I still get tears in my eyes listening to the clips on Youtube. I therefore rest my case commenting on your very unfair review.


  3. You clearly have a very limited understanding of music. The score to Kristina is amazing, with sprawling folk melodies and rich orchestrations. Perhaps you should stick to Mama Mia.

    James from Long Beach