The 42nd Passion Play in Oberammergau will take place between May 16th and October 4th in the Passion Theater in the heart of Oberammergau. Each week there are 5 performances, excluding Monday and Wednesday.
The play will be re-staged in 2020 again. The artistic team around director Christian Stückl has been working on the conception of the play for months.
The stage and costume designer Stefan Hageneier redesigned the stage of the Passion Play Theatrefor the production, conceptualized the scenery and the 12 Living Images (tableaux vivants) and created new costumes for the 2,000 actors. The workshops of the theatre have been working on the implementation of the designs for more than a year now.
The musical director Markus Zwink has revised parts of the passion music and also composed new pieces of music for the Passion Play 2020, which currently are being rehearsed by the choir and the orchestra already.
Director Christian Stückl comprehensively edited the text for the next Passion Play in recent months. In the tradition of the Passion Play, the passion story of Jesus has always been the focus of the performance. Already in the past Passion Plays, director Stückl put a greater focus on the message and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This will be further extended in the 2020 Passion Play and Stückl especially highlights the social aspects in Jesus‘ message. Jesus‘ work on the margins of society, his commitment to the forgotten, the displaced and the poor, forms the centre of the production.
On the development of the text, Stückl says: „It is a process.“ Even the text version presented at the start of the rehearsals in December 2019 will not yet be the final version. Christian Stückl will work on the text until shortly before the premiere on 16thMay 2020. The Catholic Prof. Ludwig Mödl works on the text development and several talks were held with representatives of Judaism. Frequently in the recent past, especially after the Second World War, there were justified allegations that the text was anti-Semitic. Since his first Passion Play in 1990, Christian Stückl has been working intensively on eradicating antisemitism from the production.
About the music for the Passion Play (text Markus Zwink):
Also in 2020, the music for the Passion Play is based to a large extent on the compositions by Rochus Dedler (1779 – 1822).
Dedler was born in Oberammergau. He had completed solid musical studies in Munich, his role models may have been, among others, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as Joseph and Michael Haydn. Significant parts of his music written for the years 1815 and 1820 are performed regularly in Oberammergau even outside the Passion Play years and are an integral part of the local musical culture. In the course of time, Dedler’s music was adapted and extended frequently. Also the originally rather chamber music orchestration (in Dedler’s day, the Passion Play was still performed in the cemetery) was adapted to the large scope of the current Passion Play stage.
For the performances next year, the choir will be increased to 64 singers – including 4 solo singers -for the first time. There are 58 instrumentalists in the orchestra pit. The orchestration includes the classic woodwind register – there are three musicians each for playing horns, trumpets and trombones – timpani and string instruments in medium orchestra size.
The Passion Play music goes far beyond the usual function of conventional stage music. From a purely temporal point of view, the musical performances together with the presentation of the tableaux vivants take up about one third of the play.
In recitatives, arias, soloist ensembles, dramatic and contemplative choral pieces, the Passionis reflected and set in relation to the theme of the Old Testament tableaux vivants.
As for the Passion Play years 2000 and 2010, Marcus Zwink, the musical director, has also taken over the task of musical editing for the current Passion Play 2020. The prerequisite for any change should be the stylistic assimilation to the already existing music. But, of course, the harmonious and tonal spectrum has widened somewhat as a result of the new compositions that have become necessary in part. By adding the Hebrew language in 2010 for the prayer Shema Israel sung by the whole people, he has also added oriental tone colour to the otherwise classical-romantic music to some extent. This Hebrew timbre is to be expanded again for 2020 in order to make the historical setting come more alive emotionally for the visitor.
About the concept of the stage and costumes of the Passion Play 2020
Scene and costume designer Stefan Hageneier will completely restage the Passion Play, for which around 2,400 costumes will be newly made for the actors. The stage design as well as the twelve tableaux vivants were created completely new and are currently produced in workshops in Oberammergau. The theatre stage will also be extensively reconstructed in this context.
Stefan Hageneier has presented the current state of preparations for the Oberammergau Passion Play next year during a workshop visit. All departments are very busy now. Every ten years, the people of Oberammergau stage the Passion of Christ. The people of Oberammergau vowed to do the Passion Play almost 400 years ago to be spared the spreading plague. The scenery and costumes for all tableaux vivants have to be produced and half the village has to be clothed for the collective play. Therefore, costumes are designed and made for more than 2,400 participants.While these tableaux are made in strong colours, Hageneier relies on “colourlessness”for the scenes: „Here I have a 45-meter-wide stage and a large auditorium. Thus, I need a long-distance effect,“ he explains. „We also perform mostly in daylight and do not have any directed lighting. The people must therefore be integrated into the scene and must visually fade into the background, so that the main characters in the foreground show to advantage.“ Thus, the basic colour of the scene is also the basic colour of the costumes for the people this time. Hageneier reactivated contacts with his fabric suppliers in India, sent them beige-grey colour samples of the stage and designs for patterns -and commissioned thousands of meters of fabric. They will be combined with old fabrics.
While the scenes tell the last five days in the life of Jesus Christ, tableaux vivants will be shown before and in between. In addition to the prelude, twelve scenes from the Old Testament analogous to the Passion story will be presented. In the new design, they will appear in strong colours, which stand against the monochrome colouring of the scenes. These „devotional pictures“ are not intended to illustrate the text, but they stand for themselves and create associative worlds.
Redesigning of the front of the Passion Play Theatre as part of the new conception and design of the stage and costume design and the tableaux vivants
Text: Stefan Hageneier
The scenes / renovation and further development of the Passion Play stage
The further development of the Oberammergau Passion Play, since 2000 with my participation, has made it necessary to renovate the front as a last consequence. Already in 2000 and 2010, almost no scene was played on the middle stage, because the peep-box is too small and too far away from the audience. Thus, we did not use the house of Pilate and Annas as such back in 2010 already, as it proved to be much more effective to let Pilate act on a platform at the centre of the stage during the insurrection.
For the restaging in 2020, I redesigned the stage house in a way that all the scenes, from the entry to the resurrection, can take place in the newly designed scenery. The side streets are rectified and roofed and can now be effectively illuminated. By introducing 14 Corinthian columns and passages, an extensive temple complex is created.
The light grey plastered temple forecourt, with dark insertions on which the columns are arranged, now serves as the stage scenery for all the scenes.
Jesus enters this urban Jerusalem, the political and religious centre of Israel, riding on a donkey.
Also the tent for the Last Supper will be built on the forecourt, in whose atmosphere also Jesus’ despair on the Mount of Olives will take place.
This makes it clear that the new Passion Play stage is the political and religious centre of power.
In 2020, the play will begin with a newly created appearance of the choir in simple peasant clothing which is to remember 1634, because this time the choir represents citizens of Oberammergau who swear the oath of 1634 in a newly created scene. The choir as Oberammergau citizens will comment the events on the stage.
The costumes of the scenes
Corresponding to the colour of the stage, the people will wear light grey fabrics, which will partially be combined with Indian block print fabrics.
The costumes of the High Council are also made in muted colours, but will contrast with the people’s costumes.
Herod with his court is to become a warlike tribe. His female entourage will also wear armour and weapons.
The armour parts of the Romans are reused. However, the red models will be replaced by dark costumes.
The tableaux vivants
Because of the comprehensive restructuring of the stage design of the scenes, the peep-box of the middle stage will become really visible only in the tableaux vivants, that is, for the flashbacks to the Old Testament, and will win as a mysterious place of change.
Even in the year 2020, we searched for the most appropriate analogies to the respective scenes in the Old Testament. In the tableaux vivants 2020, powerful despots will appear on the one hand, who cruelly defend their power. On the other hand, many tableaux vivants will tell of the humiliation, slavery, hope and flight of the Israelites. In these highlights of the tableaux vivants it is told how Moses fights for the freedom of his people and the civilisation of society.
The expulsion from Paradise
The Fall of Man has already been the main motive for this tableau in 2010. The motive of the house, which is present throughout all tableaux vivants, stands for paradise in this tableau vivant. Adam and Eve are expelled by a whole choir of angels.
Israel’s crossing of the Sea of Reeds
The sea opens in the form of a tunnel and engulfs the Egyptian chasers. An angel appears at the end of the tunnel.
The dance around the golden calf
Here, the tent represents the temporary dwelling of the refugees but also the roof for the erected idol, which should quickly provide relief and redemption.
The calf is borrowed from the Egyptian world of gods, but is more of a brawny bull in my portrayal, which is intended to express a strong leadership.
Oppression of the Israelites
The blood ritual in which the Israelites soaked the doorframes on Passover night to spare their firstborns from being murdered is now substituted by a more direct interpretation, depicting the oppression and enslavement of the people of Israel by Egyptian rule. This tableau vivant is an important part of the overall story of the tableaux vivants.
The Burning Bush
Moses is depicted in absolute solitude. The epiphany of God is depicted as a burning aureole that is already used in the expulsion.
Daniel in the lion’s den
The house becomes a dungeon here. Again, the angel appears as a saviour.
Job is a great dystopia. His house has collapsed. Only a shining angel mitigates the people’s mockery.
Cain and Abel
In the case of Cain and Abel, I chose the moment right after the crime. The cause is unimportant. It is about a family drama. For the first time, Adam and Eve appear as shocked and grieving parents.
Moses before the pharaoh
Moses asks the pharaoh for the freedom of his people.
It is the moment right after Joseph is taken out of the dungeon to interpret the pharaoh’s dream. Joseph appears here before the tyrannical leadership as an enslaved and tortured man.
Sacrifice of Isaac
One of the few tableaux in which Abraham takes the centre. Abraham is to sacrifice his son as a sign of loyalty. He is stopped from doing so at the last moment.
The bronze serpent
You can see on old photographs that extremely many people are depicted in many tableaux vivants. The tableaux are downright overloaded. We have already tried this tableau twice during blocking rehearsals on stage. A maximum of 70 people will be seen in this tableau vivant.
The 2020 Passion Play at a Glance
Script and Music
Text of the scenes of the Passion Play 2020 by Christian Stückl
Text of the arias and choirs by Otto Huber
Music by Rochus Dedler (1779 – 1822) from 1820 in an arrangement by Markus Zwink
The Directorial Team
Christian Stückl, 1st Director of the Passion Play, born in 1961 in Oberammergau
Abdullah Karaca, 2nd Director, born in 1989 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Professor Stefan Hageneier, stage set and costumes, born in 1972 in Oberammergau
Markus Zwink, Musical Director and 1st Conductor, born in 1956 in Oberammergau
Eva Kammerer, 2nd Conductor
Dr. Christian Wolf, 2nd Conductor
Premiere on May 16th, 2020
May 16th through August 16th
1st Part 2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
2nd Part 8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
August 17th through October 4th
1st Part 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
2nd Part 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
103 performances from May 16th through October 4th, 2020, five performances per week.
No performances on Mondays and Wednesdays. Roughly half a million spectators from all over the world are expected to attend.
Every one of the approximately 2,300 cast members was either born in Oberammergau or has lived there for at least 20 years. A separate performance right applies only the children living in Oberammergau.
21 lead roles (Jesus, Mary, John, Judas, Peter, Pilate, Caiaphas, etc.), 120 additional minor and major speaking parts, vocal soloists, 121 choir singers, orchestra members, apostles, priests and scribes, Roman soldiers and temple guards, extras.
The Passion Play Theater
The stage was built in 1928, the auditorium in 1898. The entire Passion Play Theater was renovated for the 2000 Passion Play. The Passion Play Theater has a capacity of some 4,400 roof-covered seats.
Timeline through 2020
- In June 2015, the Oberammergau municipal council re-elected Christian Stückl to direct the Play, after his stints as director in 1990, 2000 and 2010. Along with him, Abdullah Kenan Karaca (2nd Director), Stefan Hageneier (stage sets and costumes) and Markus Zwink (musical director and conductor) were commissioned to produce the 2020 Passion Play.
- The advance sale of the packages for tour operators and ticket outlets started on March 10th, 2017.
- The advance sale of the packages for end customers started in March 2018.
- The advance sale for tickets without packages started on March 6th, 2019.
- On October 20th, 2018, an ecumenical service was held by the Catholic and the Evangelical-Lutheran bishops, the Passion Vows of 1633 renewed, and the opening of the 2020 Passion Play celebrated. Following the service, which has also been broadcast by Bayerischer Rundfunk, the cast of the Passion Play was publicly announced in front of the Passion Play Theater and introduced to the public. In addition to the lead roles of Jesus, Mary, Peter, Judas, Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas, there are 120 major and minor speaking parts. In total, more than 2,000 Oberammergau residents will participate in the 2020 Passion Play.
- From March 6th, 2019 (Ash Wednesday), all participants, following an old tradition, started to let their hair grow out; the men also started growing beards.
- On June 28th, 2019 the play „The Plague“ celebrated its premiere. Since 1932, the history of the Passion Play has been renarrated in the Plague Play. The play tells the story of day laborer Kaspar Schisler, who in 1633, during the turmoil of the Thirty Years‘ War, worked as a farmhand for a farmer in Eschenlohe. Just like many parts of Bavaria at the time, the village was ravaged by the so-called Black Death: the Plague. Oberammergau had been spared, thanks to strict guarding of the village borders. And then arrived Kaspar Schisler. Yearning for his wife and children, the day laborer sneaked past the plague guards and into the village to participate at the parish fair. He was dead on the Monday after the parish fair, and by the month of October, 84 more villagers had died. In their distress, the Oberammergau residents solemnly vowed to retell the story of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death every ten years, in the hopes that God would put an end to their own suffering. Lore has it that no resident has ever died of the plague again. The following year, in 1634, the Oberammergau residents staged their Passion Play for the very first time.
- On December 7th the rehearsals for the 42nd Passion Play began. The choir and orchestra startet their rehearsals on October 18th, 2019. The actors cast in the leading roles, as well as the soloists of the Passion Play Choir, prepared for their work by taking a trip to Israel in September 2019, in the company of theologians.
- The premiere of the 2020 Passion Play has been scheduled for May 16th, 2020.
- The final performance of the 2020 Passion Play 2020 will be on October 4th, 2020.
Single tickets and arrangements are still available and can be ordered here: https://www.passionsspiele-oberammergau.de/en/tickets/tickets-arrangements
Accommodation can be booked here: https://www.ammergauer-alpen.de/ammergaueralpen/de/accommodation/search?&customHeader=ammergau
Copyright Text: Passion Play 2020 Oberammergau
Copyright Photos: Passion Play 2020 Oberammergau (photographer Gabriela Neeb, cover photo: Foto Kienberger)