The show premiered at the Malmö Opera and Music Theatre in Malmö, Sweden, on 7 October 1995 and received a rapturous welcome. The audience gave it a 10-minute standing ovation, while the critics unanimously praised it. Martin Nyström of Dagens Nyheter wrote that Andersson and Ulvaeus "created a great Swedish musical that thematically touches on the great questions of our time" and compared Andersson's musicality with that of Schubert; while Svenska Dagbladet's Carl-Gunnar Åhlén concluded that Björn Ulvaeus "succeeded in presenting the drama without getting bogged down, despite its almost Wagnerian length". A few years later, however, Dagens Nyheter reviewer Marcus Boldemann wrote that "Kristina från Duvemåla is not an A-class musical work".
Subsequently, the musical was staged at Gothenburg Opera and then premiered at the Stockholm's Cirkus that was specially renovated for it. This production won four 1998 Guldmasken Theatre Awards (Swedish equivalent of Tony Award). Counting all three runs, which were almost continuous, interrupted only by summer vacations and hiatuses due to the production's physical moving, Kristina från Duvemåla ran for nearly four years (more than 650 performances in total), making it the second longest running musical in Swedish history. In 2001, a touring concert staging was presented featuring most of the original performers recreating their previous roles. All three original Swedish productions were directed by Lars Rudolfsson with set design by Tony Award-winner Robin Wagner and musical direction by Anders Eljas.
The Original Cast triple CD set was released in 1996 and peaked at No.2 on the Swedish album chart, remaining on it for a total of 74 weeks and winning 1996 Swedish Grammis Award as the Best Album. For a number of years, a song from the musical "Guldet blev till sand" (The gold turned into sand) performed by Peter Jöback held the distinction of having spent the longest amount of time on the national Swedish radio chart Svensktoppen.
By mid-2000s, the show has been translated into English by Björn Ulvaeus and the famed Les Misérables English lyricist Herbert Kretzmer. English translations of individual songs have been presented at various concert performances throughout the last two or three years, mainly by Helen Sjöholm or Swedish musical theatre stalwart Tommy Körberg, always in association with Benny Andersson or Björn Ulvaeus.
In the US
On 12 October 1996, the 90-minute (of nearly four-hour score) concert version with the original cast was presented, in Swedish, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as an opening event of the Plymouth Music Series 1996–1997 season in Orchestra Hall; and next day in Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom, Minnesota – the area where much of the events in Moberg's books took place and where the statue of the books' two main characters stand on the Main Street of the town.
The American premiere received a glowing review from Minneapolis Star and Tribune: "I have seen the future of the music theater, and its name is Kristina...Engaging, emotionally charged – and at times haunting – piece of work capable of enchanting US viewers even when performed in a cut-down, concert version and in a tongue foreign to the audience"; while Helen Sjöholm who performed the role of Kristina was described as "extraordinary".
Time magazine later wrote that "the show has Swedes, Americans, Indians; a sacrificial whore and the death of a child; and – in case you think it sounds too solemn for your tastes – a bilingual fart joke... and it's one of the most ambitious swatches of musical theater (39 songs!) since Gershwin's 1935 "Porgy and Bess," with one of the most serious, lyrically seductive scores since Rodgers and Hammerstein were creating their midcentury, midcult epics".
In March 2006, a workshop was held in New York and featured Sara Chase as Kristina, Kevin Odekirk as Robert and Alice Ripley as Ulrika, the latter performing the song "You Have To Be There" from the musical in her and Emily Skinner's 2006 show at The Town Hall in New York and later releasing this live recording on Raw At Town Hall 2-CD set.
At the time, there had been talk of a fall 2007 opening at The Broadway Theatre, but those plans never materialized partly due to a protracted legal battle over the use of the original book written for the musical.
The English-language premiere of the musical, in a concert version under the name "Kristina: A Concert Event", took place at Carnegie Hall on 23 and 24 September 2009, with Helen Sjöholm as Kristina, Russell Watson as Karl Oskar, Louise Pitre as Ulrika and Kevin Odekirk as Robert.
The performances received mixed reviews, from Time commenting that "some of the most rapturous melodies ever heard in Carnegie Hall poured out of that grand old barn last night" to Variety concluding that "Moberg's series adds up to some 1,800 pages, and many in the restless Carnegie Hall audience may have felt they were sitting through all of them...U.S. audiences are likely to find Kristina's epic tale less than gripping". Talkin' Broadway critic Matthew Murray admitted: "It’s a musical you don’t just want to listen to: During the better portions of its score – of which there are many – you feel you have to...Andersson’s work is so big, so thoroughly conceived, and so varied in style, tempo, and color that it often feels more like a symphony than a musical. Of course, making it one would mean jettisoning the specific story treatment and lyrics, losses most shows couldn’t weather. But its music is so good that Kristina could be even more powerful as a result".
The Carnegie Hall concert recordings were released on a 2-CD set by Decca Records on 12 April 2010.
In the UK
Kerry Ellis premiered the song "You Have to Be There" in its English language version, at Thank You for the Music, a special event celebrating the music of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus on 13 September 2009. The song is featured on her debut album Anthems (2010) produced by Brian May. She has since sung the song at various live events, including Anthems: The Tour (2011).
The UK premiere of the musical, also in a concert version, took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 April 2010.
Similarly to the US, it received a mixed critical response. "The inspiration for both score and lyrics feels more like a retread of the worst excesses of Les Misérables (a fact amplified here by sharing the English lyricist of that show, Herbert Kretzmer) and Frank Wildhorn, with the occasional Lloyd Webber rock riff thrown in for good measure", wrote The Stage, while The Times concluded that "the piece displayed moments of musical power. But it will need major restructuring if it is to work on the theatrical stage... if it showed gleams of promise, this concert also emphasised that Kristina still has a long road to travel before any of us is truly moved to say thank you for the music".
Contrary to these opinions, chief classical music and opera critic for the Independent Edward Seckerson wrote a highly sympathetic review of the performance, calling Benny Andersson "a composer/melodist of startling distinction". He suggested that "this one-off concert performance...presented only its bare bones, a series of musical snapshots from a much larger whole...So dramatically sketchy, musically sumptuous. But Andersson's gorgeous folk-sourced melodies (like a Swedish Grieg) spirited us forward from one accordian-flecked knees-up and effusive ballad to the next...If ever a piece sung a nation's pride, this is it."