Before I go on reviewing the concert, I have to say something about the way I experience these kinds of concerts. I have seen several comments on this particular concert, and they are all very enthusiastic and very positive - unfortunately my review will not be entire positive.
It was a very good concert, there's absolutely no denying that, the music is spectacular and the performers are very talented indeed. However, I think that when you produce a musical concert, it is different from a regular concert. Even though there are no props, no real stage to move around and minimal costumes, I firmly believe that the performers should be in character throughout the concert. I want to see a stage presence, clear character portraits and a chemistry between the performers, so that they can tell the story of the musical.
And I felt I did not get much of that this time, unfortuanately.
This production of Kristina från Duvemåla was very similar to the concert I saw in Jönköping in 2013 (see below). They had a choir in the back, where some of the choirmemebers stepped forward to play smaller parts, such as Brusander, Nöjd and Reverand Jackson.
The orchestra was on the stage but the main performers had an area at the front of the stage where they could walk around and even though they were not able to act out a lot, they could easily move and interact with each other.
Just like in Jönköping, the concert-version was a bit shortened, the song "Duvemåla Hage" (Path of Leaves and Needles") had been shortened, and "Kamfer och Lavender" (english translation?) had been removed completely. I think it's a bit of a shame, as these songs are really beautiful - but I guess you can't have it all, right?
Also, Marianne Mörck was again the narrator, reading certain texts - some directly from Moberg's books, some newly written texts that very much reminded of the books - as a way of connecting the story and moving it forward. This is a very clever concept that I enjoy a lot - it also gives the prodcution more of a "regular musical"-feeling than strictly a concert.
And again, the orchestra and choir were conducted by Anders Eljas, whom I like a lot. I actually did spent quite a lot of time during the concert watching him, and it's amazing to see how completely consumed he is in the music and how he interacts with the members of the choir and orchestra, as well as the main performers!
Sanna Nielsen was Kristina, just like in Jönköping. And I am sorry to say, I don't think she is a musical artist. I felt that way two years ago, and I haven't changed my mind. Nielsen is a very talented singer with an amazing voice, but there is more to it than that. I did get the feeling she was struggling a bit with some of the higher notes this time, she reached falsetto a few times and it didn't quite work, but apart from that, I did not get that she was Kristina! She tried to interact a little bit with the other performers, but it was far from enough, according to me. I did not feel a chemistry between her and Philip Jalmelid, who played Karl Oskar - and the relationship with Kristina and Karl Oskar is an integral part of this story! I also felt Nielsen sometimes made a few mistakes ... like singing to Robert (Sonny Enell) but for the most part looking at Karl Oskar, which felt very confusing. I also feel like she did not know who Kristina is, because a lot of her reactions contradicts how Kristina really does react. I can't help feeling that Nielsen's focus was on delivering beautiful songs - which she did ... but in a musical concert, the focus should be in telling the story.
Her big song is of course "Du måste finnas" ("You have to be there"). I know I reacted in Jönköping to how much anger Nielsen placed in the song then, which I felt was quite wrong - so I was curious to see her now. Most of the anger was gone, which I was happy about, but I did not get much of the sheer panic and utter fright that I know is what this song is about. Nielsen made an enormous effort in this song, she gave it her all - and got some standing ovations in the middle of the concert for that song! - and I do appreciate that ... but again; focus was on delivering a beautiful song.
Philip Jalmelid played Karl Oskar. I have seen Jalmelid a few times now and I have always been very, very impressed by him. Not quite as impressed this time however.
He does have the most remarkable voice, and it is amazing to listen to him, but I felt the same with him as with Nielsen - the focus was on delivering beautiful songs, not in finding the character and telling the story. And I was a bit disappointed with that, because Jalmelid has always been completely in character before, and he is a musical artist ...
Jalmelid has a very powerful voice, and I felt he used his voice to make Karl Oskar very angry. Christer Nerfont in Jönköping also played an angry Karl Oskar (more so than the original Anders Ekborg), but I felt that Jalmelid at times took it to far. I think the song "Stanna" ("In the Dead of Darkness") is one of the more beautiful songs in the musical, but Jalmelid sang it so sharply that it almost sounded like he commanded Kristina to "Stanna kvar hos mig!" ("Please, please don't leave me!") - and it is not a command! For the first time in his life, Karl Oskar has absolutely no idea what to do, all he can do is sit and watch his wife die before his eyes. His exclamation is a plea, a prayer ... not a command.
At one point in the concert I truly felt that it was Karl Oskar on the stage - which was during "Vildgräs" ("Wild Grass"). This was without a doubt the best thing Jalmelid did during the night and it was amazing!! Everything in it was spot on, the intonation, the reactions, the power ... Amazing!!
Sonny Enell as Robert. What can I say? Clearly the brightest shining star of the evening. I had not heard of Enell before, but he was absolutely fantastic!! He was Robert, from the moment he stepped on stage until he took his bow afterwards. A great stage presence and completely in character - he had truly grasped Robert's rather complex character, and did an amazing job portraying it. He also had one of the better voices I have heard in a very long time, and I was close to tears during "Guldet blev till Sand" ("Gold can turn to sand").
I very much want to see more of him in the future!
Åsa Fång played Ulrika, just like in Jönköping. And just like two years ago, I did not like her interpretation of "Aldrig" ("Never") very much, but I think she improved a lot in the second act.
Marianne Mörck was Fina-Kajsa and the narrator. It is always lovely to see Mörck on stage, and quite special as she was part of the original cast and production from 1995! Unfortuantely I don't think this night was Mörck's best night - she did a great job as narrator, her reading of these intermittant texts was very good - but unfortunately she did forget the text to her songs sometimes and her timing was a bit off. I know these things happen and it wasn't that big a deal, but as I practically know every beat of this entire musical I do notice when it happens.
There were six children on stage, and they were amazing. In Jönköping there was a bit of confusion, as the same girl sang both Anna's and Märta's parts, but here each child had his and her own character which was very good!
All of the children took part in "Präriens drottning" ("Queen of the Prairie") which was a wonderful wonderful song! They did the best they could setting the whole thing up with a minimal part of the stage and it was fantastic to see the children sing and act out the way they did - they were all very talented!
As for the minor characters, I have a few comments. Unfortunately Åke Persson, who was Brusander, forgot almost the entire beginning of "Vi Öppnar Alla Grindar" ("We Open up the Gateways"), I didn't mind much as I know the text anyway, but I think it might have been a bit harder for those not that familiar with the musical. Johan Sandberg played Reverand Jackson, he made an apprerance on the stage during "Tänk att män som han kan finnas" ("American Man"), where he did a great job, but he was also the Norweigan shoemaker Thomassen ... the same performer did both these parts in Jönköping too. It does work, but it is a bit confusing in "Vill du inte gifta dig med mig?" (english translation?), where all these men propose to Ulrika - in the song it is Thomassen (and Nöjd and Abbott) who propose, but she is then married to Jackson ... it is confusing when the same performer plays these two parts.
All in all, a beautiful concert - but I wish it had been more of a musical concert, with characters, not performers, on stage ...
I want to conclude by saying that I hope I have not stirred up harsh feelings or offended anyone with this review. I realize it is more "negative" than most my reviews, and I think this has several explanations.
First of all, I have not been feeling well at all lately, and this of course does affect how you look at things, and you tend to see things in a more negative light.
Secondly, this musical - but not only the musical; the story, the books, the characters, the movies, all of this - is very close to my heart. I know parts the book by heart, and on my mother's side, I have relatives that grew up in the same places in Småland, one of my relatives went to school with Vilhlem Moberg ... I feel strongly about this and therefore I also tend to look at the little details when it comes to this.
One last remark, that has less to do with me, personally.
When Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson wrote this muscial, they on purpose went back to the book and made a musical that was as close to the book as you possibly could. Some of the texts in the musical are practically direct quotations from the book, which is astonishing!
Therefore I feel that when this musical is produced, whether in concert or as a "real" musical, you should try to stay as close to the original production, and the book, as possible! I can understand that you sometimes want to change little things, "upgrade", put your own mark on a production or a performance, but I don't think you should when it comes to Kristina från Duvemåla. Ulvaeus and Andersson were very careful to truly respect and honor Moberg's epic books, and I think this should continue.
Sanna Nielsen - Kristina
Philip Jalmelid - Karl Oskar
Sonny Enell - Robert, Karl Oskars bror
Åsa Fång - Ulrika i Västergöhl, ogift
Marianne Mörck - Fina-Kajsa, berättare