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Oberammergau keeps its vow

by
06 May 2009

visited the Bavarian village as it sets about its task for 2010

Passion Play cast for 2010: rep­resentatives of the media are in attendance as the list is revealed

Passion Play cast for 2010: rep­resentatives of the media are in attendance as the list is revealed

WELL-KNOWN traditional signs heralded the 2010 production of the famous Passion play of Oberam­mergau in Upper Bavaria last month.

Thousands of local people gathered in front of the Theatre to repeat the vow originally made on this day in 1633, that they would perform a play of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection every ten years in thanksgiving that the Bubonic plague, which had nearly annihilated the village, had miracu­lously subsided.

Several hours of suspense followed when the finest calligrapher of the village, now 78, slowly wrote the names of the selected cast in white chalk on large green boards. Rehearsals will begin in November, preceded by a pilgrimage for the leading actors to the Holy Land in September to soak in the atmos­phere.

Initially, the vow and play took place in the cemetery where the plague victims were buried. The priests wrote and performed the play using parts of the liturgy. The words of Jesus were chanted. It was a solemn act of worship.

“It is still very much an act of worship,” Frederik Mayet, who plays Jesus in 2010 and played the apostle John in 2000, said. “It also brings the whole community together in a unified activity.”

Like the entire cast of more than 2000 including 450 children, he will continue his normal job throughout the rehearsals and the five-month season beginning 15 May. The lead­ing roles are played by two parallel teams. Ursula Burkhart will play Mary with him, and played Mary Magdalene in 2000. It is only since 1990 that married women over 35 have been allowed to take part.

The director, Christian Stückl, and assistant director, Otto Huber, have written the script, based on an early script by Fr Alois Daisenberger, the parish priest of Oberammergau in the late-18th century. Fr Daisen­berger made it a real drama with an emotional content, and the new versions portrays Judas as a genuine political reformist with under­standable reasons for betraying Jesus.

The director, Christian Stückl, and assistant director, Otto Huber, have written the script, based on an early script by Fr Alois Daisenberger, the parish priest of Oberammergau in the late-18th century. Fr Daisen­berger made it a real drama with an emotional content, and the new versions portrays Judas as a genuine political reformist with under­standable reasons for betraying Jesus.

Herr Stückl, who directed the 1990 version at the age of 27, and later the 2000 one, is well aware of the problems of portraying Christ. “How can you portray Jesus — at once fully man and divine?” he said.

Despite Passion plays’ being ban­ned in the 18th century on the grounds of presenting “objectionable and unseemly matter”, Oberam­mergau fought to keep its Passion play going, and created an iconic international religious cultural event. Even Thomas Cooke started bringing groups over in the 1880s.

The play historically had an anti-Semitic bias, in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching about the “perfidious Jews”, and Adolf Hitler encouraged this and attended a performance in 1934. “It is of importance to the Reich,” he said. The cast were then all pro-Nazi, except the man playing Judas.

Post-war productions have been overshadowed by accusations of anti-Semitism, and the 1977 production was boycotted by Jewish organisa­tions. Organisers of this production have bent over backwards to avoid accusations. Among many changes, Jesus recites the blessing in Hebrew at the Last Supper, and the line “His blood is upon us and upon our chil­dren’s children” has been removed.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime experi­ence, and most tour operators offer a reasonable package trip, which may include staying in a villager’s house or a hotel. Tickets range from 150 to 45 euro.

www.passionplay-oberammergau.com

ALL PHOTOS ©2009 THOMAS DASHUBER/AGENTUR FOCUS

ALL PHOTOS ©2009 THOMAS DASHUBER/AGENTUR FOCUS

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