"It was magic. It really, really worked!" The day after the preview of the ABBA concert that will premiere on May 27 in London, Björn Ulvaeus was visibly excited.
"The audience agree to be in this imaginary world for a while at a concert, and they see the ABBAtars as living creatures," the ABBA star told DW, referring to the fact that the band's return to the stage is actually a virtual live concert.
Thanks to the ABBAtars, the name given to the digital holograms of the legendary Swedish pop band, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid seem miraculously rejuvenated — as if a time machine had transported them directly to 2022 from the late 1970s, when they were at the peak of their fame.
For five weeks, the four ABBA members, who are now all over 70 years old, performed each of the 20 songs of the concert dressed in special motion-capture suits in front of 160 cameras, so that all their movements could be recorded.
As authentic as possible
ABBA compiled the greatest hits of their career for the approximately 100-minute show. The set list includes new songs from their album "Voyage," released in November 2021, including the singles "I Still Have Faith In You" and "Don't Shut Me Down."
The "ABBA Voyage" concert merges live performance and virtual show: A band of 10 musicians plays all the songs live on stage alongside the ABBAtar holograms. Agnetha and Anni-Frid's voices and backing vocals are taken from the original recordings of the songs, as are Björn's piano and Benny's guitars.
Audiences enjoy this strange mixture, and that's what they've always dreamed of, Ulvaeus told DW. "They were absolutely captivated and they were having so much fun, they were singing along. And afterwards, I could see many people were sort of gaping and wondering, what was it that we just saw?"
"It's an experience that no one has ever had before, it's completely new and pushing boundaries." For the premiere, the four "real" ABBA members will be on stage; at the other shows, the audience will only see the ABBAtars.
The arena, custom-built for the show, has space for about 3,000 people; ABBA fans who want to dance can get tickets for the "dance floor" in front of the stage or for one of the eight open "dance booths," where up to 12 people can celebrate their private ABBA party. The first series of shows will run from May until the beginning of December.
Björn Ulvaeus has plans
After the premiere, the four ABBA members will head home again. Björn Ulvaeus will return to Stockholm for rehearsals for the musical "Pippi at the Circus," based on one of the books in Astrid Lindgren's beloved Pippi Longstocking series. Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson composed the music for the show, making it a blend of Sweden's most successful cultural exports — Pippi Longstocking and ABBA.
That means a lot to Ulvaeus. "Pippi is strong and independent and Agnetha and Anni-Frid are strong and independent as well," he told DW. "They are perfect symbols for equality between men and women and for the empowerment of girls and young women. They are role models." If men and women were equal, the world would be a better place, Ulvaeus added.
'Voyage' is ABBA's last project
According to the band, the "Voyage" show is ABBA's final joint project. Bringing the quartet together one more time for the album "Voyage" and the ABBAtar show was a dream come true for Ulvaeus. "I've never had such a good time as I'm having now," he said. "I think I'm a happier man now than I was in the 70s."
Author Silke Wünsch
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