The nearly 400-year-old-year Passion play performed by the people of the German alpine village of Oberammergau comes to a close after a nearly five-month run, with viewers saying this year was especially meaningful as the play was delayed by two years by the COVID-19 pandemic. Villagers kept their vow to perform the play every 10 years, made in 1633 to avert the ravages of the plague.
Oberammergau native Christian Stückl has directed the Passion Play for more than 30 years, several times reworking the 100-year-old script, modernizing it, and removing antisemitic references.
“As a spectator you don’t really have to bring anything [in terms of religious understanding], you can just turn up,” Stückl said of the audience that comes from around the world to see the famous production.
“But as a director, if I didn’t have the belief and conviction that there is a certain power behind this story, behind this Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to tell this story,” Stückl said.
Ruth Aspinall traveled from Britain to see the Passion play and said she really liked this year’s production, finding it meaningful in several ways.
“Well, it’s my fifth time of coming and I don’t mean fifth in one year. So, that it explains it all, I would think. Very much so, it’s much simpler. I loved the Resurrection. It’s never been used before. It was just sort of hinted at before. But this time, all the disciples come on and lit candles. Mary was happy. Then everybody sang hallelujah. It ended much more joyful,” said Aspinall.
The play’s deputy director, Abdullah Kenan Karaca, also plays the priest, Nicodemas. Karaca is the son of Turkish immigrants and grew up in Oberammergau, a predominately Catholic village. But the village, too, is becoming reflective of Germany’s increased diversity, taking in refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Ukraine. This is the first time the play has included a leading Muslim actor, Cengiz Gorur. Karaca, a professional theater director, says his first theater experience was performing in the Passion play as a child.
“The motivation why people are in the play is totally different. Some people, because of their faith, they want to fulfill the vow, other ones they just fascinated by the big production we have. Everyone is trying their best and do it really with their heart. This is really beautiful that the Passion play, the story of Jesus, can bring a lot of people together,” he said.
For Oberammergau native Frederik Mayet, one of two actors who plays Jesus, conveying Jesus’ message of love and hope to the audience is important.
“You always have to find the words that reach the people of today. We notice now in this Passion play year, the people are really touched. The power, joy, and enthusiasm we have on stage reaches the people in the auditorium automatically and that’s something special. When the choir is singing, when there are hundreds of persons on stage, sometimes it’s a magical moment,” he said.
Mayet portrayed Jesus for a second time and comes from a family with a long history of participating in the Passion play, starting in 1890. His children, 3 and 8, have also been on stage this year.