Progressing from Arrival to The Visitors, Bjorn said he wanted his lyrics to mature with him. Then came the CHESS musical. In the 1990s, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus attained even more depth. They staged "Kristina fran Duvemala," a musical based on The Emigrants series, four historical novels by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. It is the story of the Swedes who emigrated to America in the 1850s. "Kristina" is four hours long and contains over 30 songs. The main characters, Kristina and Karl Oskar Nilsson, never existed, although there were Swedes like them. Fictional though they are, there is a statue of the couple in Lindstrom, Minnesota. Moberg went to the area to do research. He spent 12 years on his novels, mingling fact with fiction. The books embrace Karl Oskar's vision, whereas Benny and Bjorn's musical focuses on Kristina, her homesickness and her inability to adapt to life in America. Benny and Bjorn are masters of feminine psychology! Their talents lie in probing the female psyche. In an era when family values are discussed, their story embodies them. Karl Oskar and Kristina strive against harsh natural forces to ensure their children a future. "Kristina fran Duvemala" opened in Malmo, Sweden, in 1995. It was in Swedish! Benny and Bjorn set an English translation as their goal, hoping it will eventually reach Broadway or be made into a movie.
That Benny and Bjorn chose to work with a Swedish classic gave them an advantage they would not have otherwise had. They did not have to start from scratch. They contributed to their national heritage! "Kristina fran Duvemala" is something to learn from as much as it is something to be enjoyed.
I read the four novels: 1058 pages. Moberg began writing them in 1947, and even though he wrote them during the Cold War, they read like something from the Victorian era. They are a throwback, foreign to the age of automobiles and airplanes. Moberg died in 1973.
After reading the first book, I was curious as to how Karl Oskar and his group would fare in America. The second book deepened my understanding of the characters. By the third, Moberg was piling up scenes.
I should distinguish between two words. Emigrants are people who leave a country. Immigrants are people who enter a country.
In the early 1970s, Jan Troell turned The Emigrants into a film starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Troell did a second film, and the sequel is called The New Land. The films incorporate all the books. They are meticulously faithful.
Benny and Bjorn drew from the novels rather than the films. They squeezed out the essence of the story, converting prose into Swedish folk music and lyrics. The soundtrack is monumental! I drew an equation: four novels equal two movies equal one stage musical.
The Emigrants embodies the same Swedish soul that ABBA's music does. Songs like "Move On," "I Wonder (Departure)," "Eagle" and "I Have A Dream" echo the emigrants' courage and determination to set sail. I thought of "One Man, One Woman" in connection with Karl Oskar's and Kristina's marriage. I heard "The Visitors" when I read of Danjel's home being entered by Church authorities. Going into theater was a quantum leap for Benny and Bjorn!
"Kristina in Concert was at Carnegie Hall in New York for two nights, and Michael and I saw it, September 24, 2009. It lasted nearly three hours. The main characters lined up to sing their parts in front of the orchestra. The melodies were full of emotion. Even though it was the English version, it was still difficult to understand the lyrics. Of course, I knew the story. I pitied those who did not. Leaving the theater, Michael asked me what I thought. I told him it was an accomplishment, an achievement. And that is what it was, that I managed to see it with my son! Benny and Bjorn were in the audience (I figured they would be) and came to the stage at the concert's end. "The Gold Turned To Sand." got the biggest ovation.
My connection to "Kristina" is that it is an extension of ABBA. Michael's connection is that he lived in Minnesota.
"Kristina" was staged at the Swedish National Theatre in Helsinki, Finland in 2012.
Kristina fran Duvemala