Plan now for the 2020 Passion Play in the Alps
The Passion Play, the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is performed in Oberammergau, a small Alpine village, once every 10 years. It is a performance unlike any other in the world — all of the actors and musicians must come from this village. Every actor is a citizen of the mountain town of Oberammergau, deep in the Bavarian Alps.
This once-a-decade event requires early planning. Now is the time to start.
In just over 18 months in 2020, from the 16th of May until the 4th of October, the play will echo through the village. As they have for almost four centuries, Oberammergau’s villagers will give themselves over to the performance of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
More than half of the town’s population performs in some way in the Passion Play. In the year leading up to this event, once clean-shaven policemen grow beards and bankers let their hair grow long. Tradition in this town holds that fake beards and wigs are strictly against the rules onstage. The “real” biblical look comes naturally. Villagers performing in the play aren’t allowed to cut their hair after Ash Wednesday a year before the show
Why would a town and its descendants maintain this ritual for 385 years without fail? Why, in the face of modern secularism and the mobile family can this cluster of chalets set beneath soaring, snow-covered, jagged peaks keep this commitment and allow the tradition to endure?
This remarkable story goes back to 1633 when the entire region surrounding Oberammergau was suffering from the “black death,” abject poverty, and endless wars. In the midst of this state of pending disaster and destruction, the villagers made a solemn pledge to perform the Passion Play every ten years. Remarkably, the town was spared the worst of the pestilence and ravages of war. Ever since that salvation, their descendants have carried out that pledge.
Rehearsals for this event last ten months. The villagers selected to play Jesus and Mary, Pontius Pilate and the apostles, the priests, soldiers, and children all will soon be practicing their lines. The choir and the orchestra are beginning to memorize the memorable score, composed in the 19th century by Rochus Dedler, again a resident of Oberammergau.
The director, Christian Stückl, and his staff are all residents of Oberammergau. They have been planning for this summer for a decade since the last passion play closed in October of 2010. A break with tradition in last year’s play voted on by townspeople shifted the timing of the play to allow Christ to be crucified and die as night was falling. Previously, the five-hour play took place in the morning and afternoon with a break for lunch. This year the play starts in the afternoon and finishes as night falls with a break for dinner.
Packages to see the Passion Play
Tickets for the performances this season will soon be sold out — that is, sold out to tour operators and packagers. The best way to see the Passion Play is to purchase a package that includes at least a night in Oberammagau with meals included. (The meals are important, since the play lasts all afternoon and evening with a break for dinner. Without a meal plan, the spectators would never get fed in time to return to the performance.)
The 2020 Passion Play premiere is on Saturday, May 16, 2020. From that point, the play takes place a total of 102 times, five days a week, with no performances on Mondays and Wednesdays. Each performance runs in the afternoon between 2:30 and 5 p.m. Dinner is served at hotels and then the final part of the play starts at 8 p.m. and ends at around 10:30 p.m.
The Passion Play website has details on tour operators who can arrange for tickets to performances, meals and lodging. Expect to pay between $634 and $316 for a two-night package with room and meals per person based on double occupancy.
Note: Many of these tour operators include Passion Play tickets with other multi-day tours through Europe. Those who want to book a package can make reservations NOW. Tickets for only the play itself will not be sold until 2019 and will be hard to find. However, go here to make reservations for purchase when these individual tickets are available.