ABERAMERHAU, Germany (AP) – Nearly 400 years ago, residents of a small Bavarian Catholic village vowed every 10 years to perform the play “The Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” if only God would have mercy on them. further losses from the plague known as the Black Death.
Legend has it that from 1634, when the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau first showed their passionate game, the inhabitants did not die from this plague or other plagues – until 2020, when the world was not engulfed in a new plague, a coronavirus pandemic. In Oberammergau, as in many parts of the world, there have been several deaths from COVID-19, although residents who have confirmed this did not know how many.
Another consequence: the villagers failed to keep their promise to stage the play after a 10-year hiatus. It was supposed to open in the spring of 2020, but was postponed due to a pandemic.
Now, after a two-year delay, the famous play Oberammergau Passion Play – the 42nd production since its long debut – will finally open on May 14. Almost half of the villagers – more than 1,800 people, including 400 children – will take part in the play about the last five days before the crucifixion of Christ.
It is a production modernized over time, devoid of anti-Semitic allusions and involving various actors, including refugee children and non-Christian actors.
The play will be one of the first major cultural events in Germany since the outbreak of the pandemic, and is expected to attract nearly half a million visitors from Germany and around the world, particularly from the United States.
“Just a few weeks ago, many could not believe that the premiere of” Passion Play “will take place,” said director Christian Stuckl, who was born in Oberammergau and directed the play for more than 30 years.
“We don’t know what COVID-19 will do if there is another wave,” he said. “But we have an endless desire to bring our passion back to the stage, and we are very motivated.”
All the actors tested themselves for the virus before each rehearsal and will continue to do so throughout all 103 performances that run through Oct. 2, Stukl said. They all let their hair – and men – beard – more than a year, as tradition dictates.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, themes such as war, famine, persecution, and displacement play a prominent role in this year’s production – demonstrating the continuity of human suffering 2,000 years ago and today.
The play, which for hundreds of years reflected a conservative, Catholic view, has been carefully reworked to reflect Germany’s more diverse society. It is the first to feature a major Muslim actor, and he has been cleared of many notorious anti-Semitic storylines that have sparked widespread criticism.
“The story of Oberammergau’s passion as one that shows these anti-Semitic traits – Jews as villains, Jews as deceptive, Jews as bloodthirsty, Jews as manipulative, Jews as murderers of Christ – has always been part of history,” said Rabbi Noam Marans. The Associated Press in a recent interview in Oberammergau.
Marans, director of interfaith and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee in New York, has for several years advised Shtukla, along with a group of Christian and Jewish American experts, on how to rid the play of anti-Semitic content.
It was a success story. The play no longer portrays the Jews as the murderers of Christ, and clearly shows that Jesus himself was a Jew. In it the story of the last days of Jesus is placed in a historical context with all its intra-Jewish tensions and the oppression of the Jews by the Romans.
Male performers wear fairs, making them distinctly recognizable as Jews. Of course, there are also many Christian elements, such as the famous choir and orchestra, whose musical compositions date back to the early 19th century.
The combination of Christian and Jewish influences on the present performance is vividly illustrated during the depiction of the Last Supper, when a huge Menorah is lit on the table and the disciples of Jesus recite both Jewish prayers and the Christian prayer of the Lord.
“Let there be no doubt: in Oberammergau, in the play, anti-Semitism has no place, and it has no place in the lives of artists,” – said Stukl.
Along with the anti-Semitism fight, Stuckl’s play made it a more inclusive performance.
Until the 1990s, when Stuckl became director, the performers had to belong to one of the two main German churches, the Roman Catholic or the Lutheran. These days, people who have left the church, atheists, Muslims and people of any other religious affiliation are invited to participate, as long as they are residents of Oberammergau.
Judas was played by Muslim actor Chengiz Gorur. Deputy Director Abdul Karaj is the son of Turkish immigrants. And several children of refugees from Africa and other countries, who had only recently arrived in Oberammergau after fleeing their home countries, were invited to speak.
As for women, there is still something to work on. Shtukl called the play “very masculine” – all the main roles are male, except for the mother of Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene.
Asked if he could imagine a future performance in which women played the lead male roles, Shtukl shook his head.
“I don’t think I will live until Jesus is played by a woman and Mary is played by a man,” he said. Then he paused for a moment, smiled, and added, “Though this will not be the end of the world.”
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