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News & Reports Aug 7, 2014 | 3:20 PMby Tromso Olympiad 2014

The rebirth of Chess in Concert

The musical Chess, featuring lyrics by Tim Rice and music by ABBA’s Bjørn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, has been a worldwide hit since it was first released as a concept album in 1984 and then a theatrical production in 1986. The Cold War theme is loosely based on the 1972 match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, so there could be few better spectacles to show at the start of the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø. Sylvia Johnsen, Women’s FIDE Master and an Olympiad volunteer, has reviewed the show.

Chess in Concert is the Arctic Philharmonic’s largest production ever – with more than 200 people involve | photo: Marius Fiskum / NOSO

A lot of space in the Arctic Philharmonic’s production of the musical Chess in Concert is devoted to the historical story, which makes the show richer, more entertaining and more innovative.

The musical’s plot is inspired by the Cold War and the 1972 World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, an encounter that became known as the “Match of the Century”. Chess in Concert in Tromsø also provides an exclusive encounter with music that is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. The Arctic Philharmonic and Norwegian musical artists perform enthusiastic musical numbers, rock ’n roll and ballads from the “sweet pop” tradition we associate with Bjørn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. It’s not without good reason that the double album reached the top of England’s pop charts on three separate occasions.

Lyricist Benny Andersson marks the 30th anniversary by giving the production a brand new song, performed by the surprise package – Reidun Sæther. She has the role of the wife of the Russian player Anatoly (Yngve Gåsøy-Romdal), which she manages splendidly. Sæther doesn’t play second fiddle to Barbara Dickson, who played this supporting lead role in the original production from 1986.

Yngve Gåsøy-Romsdal plays the Russian chess player Anatoly and Reidun Sæther his wife Svetlana | photo: Marius Fiskum / NOSO

The concert really comes alive when Gåsøy sings the third song, “Where I Want to Be”.  No one has played the role of Anatoly and sung the musical’s big aria, The Anthem, better than Tommy Körberg, but here I felt Gåsøy could get close or even surpass his predecessor. Gåsøy sang with both power and empathy, and is without doubt a better actor. Playing this role after Körberg is like jumping after the world’s best ever ski jumper – and Gåsøy jumps to gold!

Espen Grjotheim plays the American Freddy, who is battling Anatoly for the world title. Grjotheim’s voice carries well during his performance of “One Night in Bangkok”. He’s a very competent singer, and manages the difficult transitions to rock ‘n roll after having developed a creamy voice in recent years at Folketeateret and on NRK’s programme “Stjernekamp” (Battle of the Stars).

Espen Grjotheim sings well in the role of the American chess player Freddy | photo: Marius Fiskum / NOSO

Nils Kristian Fossdal plays Molokov, the Russian’s second and a party loyalist, and guides the audience through the historical curiosities. These show how politics influenced the lives of individuals. Anatoly needs to sacrifice his wife and love to secure the title of the world’s best chess player. Fossdal appears to have great fun as he performs the songs with a deep rich voice.

The play adds a new dimension to Chess in Concert, and it’s tempting to claim this is a rebirth of the musical. The audience gets far more than a typical concert experience. The orchestra comprises first-class musicians and is conducted by ABBA friend Anders Eljas. He puts in enormous effort in order to give the audience an exclusive experience.

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