In the summer of 2000, Jon Carrow and I made a special trip to the tiny German village of Oberammergau to see the Passion Play which has been performed there faithfully every year since the 15th century.

As the "Black Death" swept across Europe many people in the tiny mountain village of Oberammergau fell victim to the plague.

The villagers, in council, made a solemn vow to God that should they be spared from further deaths, they would commemorate this salvation by performing the Passion of Christ every ten years thereafter.

No more people died, and the villagers kept their sacred oath. They erected a platform stage in the village churchyard, over the graves of their departed. The village priest wrote a script, with some help from monks in the nearby Ettelsburg Abbey, and the tradition began. The play has been presented ever ten years since, with the exception of some war years. Later, a permanent outdoor theatre was built when the production became too elaborate for the cemetery platform.

Today, the play runs from Spring to Autumn, 100 performances. In 2010 we returned to Obberammergau. For the first time that year, the play began in the afternoon, there was a break for dinner, and the performance resumed in the evening -- with lighting effects.

Oberammergau is not far from the Wagner Festspielhaus, and I expect that the sophisticated direction, costumes and sets of the Wagner performances have had an influence on the slow majesty of the Bayreuth productions.

Some 350 amateurs of all ages - who must be residents of the town - take part. This time we were fortunate enough to have 8th row seats in an audience of 8,000.

The presentation began in mid-afternoon with pleasant mountain breezes, and after a break for dinner continued until close to midnight when, bundled against the chill, we came to the Crucifixion and finally, the Resurrection. We had an English translation to follow, but the action was clear without all the dialogue. A choir of 50 and a symphony orchestra, supported a cast of some 300 people. Camels, sheep, doves and horses also appeared. It was a moving, beautiful and inspiring event.

The performance was reverent, skilled, and quite sophisticated. Performed against a classic gray set of arches and stairs, the cast is said to be some 360 people, including children, and with the addition of horses, camels and pigeons.

The Oberammergau Passion Play




Then, from the sacred to the profane: On the following evening we were in Italy, where we attended a performance of Bizet’s Carmen in the ancient Arena di Verona. With long-advance planning, Jon managed to get second-row seats in an audience of some 18,000 people. The evening was balmy and the acoustics perfect. The cast, again about 300, and the large orchestra were both superb. Once more, spectacle, with animals and much Spanish dancing. The performance was stunning.

Carmen in the Arena di Verona















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