Big world in miniature


Climbing the stairs to the exhibition room under the roof, one feels transported to a miniature wonderland. 43 stage models impressively convey the stage action and scene construction of each Passion Play.

In the anteroom, the development of the stage house itself can be traced on models by Nicolaus Unhoch (1820), Carl Lautenschläger (1890) and Raimund and Johann Georg Lang (1930), while the large exhibition room impresses with a selection of 40 models from the Passion Plays of 2000 and 2010 as well as the Rosner Rehearsal of 1977.

Rebuilt of the stage model by Nicolaus Unhoch (1820) (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Stage model by Carl Lautenschläger (1890) (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Stage model by Georg Johann Lang (1930) (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Costume of Annas from the Passion Play 2000 and serpent from the Rosner Rehearsal 1977 (Photo: Jenny Greza)

The Rosner Rehearsal represented an attempt to bring the baroque play by Benedictine priest Ferdinand Rosner to the stage in a newly edited, modern form as an alternative to the Daisenberger Passion Play. This reform Rehearsal was preceded by decades of discussions about the textual problems. In essential contrast to Daisenberger, allegorical figures play a decisive role in Rosner's text. Lucifer and the infernal spirits are allegories and personifications of the human vices that are ultimately responsible for Christ's death on the cross. Some masks of the devil's host as well as the costume of the serpent are shown in the exhibition.

In 1975, the municipality commissioned the well-known Oberammergau artist and long-time carving school director Hans Schwaighofer to stage a performance based on the Rosner text from 1750, the so-called "Rosner Rehearsal". The artist had laid the foundations for the production in many years of preparatory work. Hans Schwaighofer was responsible for the stage design and direction, he designed all the sets, masks and costumes himself. Alois Fink adapted Rosner's text and the composer Wolfgang Fortner created the music from drafts by Rosner's contemporary, Franz Xaver Richter, and his own compositions. Particularly impressive is the richness of detail with which Schwaighofer and his carving students designed each figure and the individual expression they gave to them. One has the feeling of being able to immerse oneself in a living scene, so vivid and close is the depiction. Schwaighofer recreated almost all of the scenes in models, as it was necessary to convince the citizens and the town council of Oberammergau of his radical new production.

In 1977, after seven months of rehearsals, the Rosner Play was performed eight times with about 700 committed participants. The Rosner Rehearsal was very positively received by the audience and critics. However, in a subsequent public opinion poll, the majority decided against adopting the Rosner production for the 1980 play year. The municipal council finally decided to keep the Daisenberger text for the 1980 play year. Nevertheless, Schwaighofer and his team were the decisive initiators for the renewal of the Passion Play.

Picture from the Rosner Rehearsal 1977 (Photo: Archive of the Municipality of Oberammergau)

Stage model of "The Entry into Jerusalem" from the Rosner Rehearsal (Photo: Jenny Greza)

Detail of "The Entry into Jerusalem" from the Rosner Rehearsal (Photo: Jenny Greza)

Costume of Caiaphas from the Passion Play 2000 designed by Stefan Hageneier (Photo: Jenny Greza)

After his first direction of the Play in 1990, Christian Stückl was again appointed Play Director for the Passion 2000 by a referendum. Only now, with the support of the vast majority of Oberammergau citizens, could he really begin to reform, modernise and bring the Play into the present day. Christian Stückl and Otto Huber, as dramaturgical directors, set the Passion Play as an inner-Jewish conflict: Advocates and adversaries are found within the High Council, among the common people, in the narrow circle of the faithful, i.e. at all levels of society and not in hostile camps. Stückl and Huber were primarily concerned with giving the figure of Jesus greater individuality and more space. It was important not to limit Jesus to his suffering, but rather to portray him as a strong fighter for his Jewish faith. These innovations were also to be reflected in a completely new stage and costume design: "Since March 1999 almost 2000 new costumes and 28 scenery designs have been created by the Oberammergau stage designer Stefan Hageneier. Many of the magnificent fabrics [...] were bought in India, the soldiers' weapons and armour were made by an Oberammergau blacksmith. Over 600 costumes were custom-made, fabrics dyed, feathers glued. Tailors, carpenters, stage painters, sculptors and lighting technicians worked together - for the first time in 70 years - on a new garment for the Passion Play 2000."

Caiphas in the stage model of the Passion Play 2000 (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Stage model of the Living Picture "Dance around the Golden Calf" from 2000 (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Stage model of the Living Picture "Moses leads the Israelites through the Red Sea" of the Passion Play 2010 by Stefan Hageneier (Photo: Oberammergau Museum)

Visitors to the 2010 Passion Play were left with an impressive memory of the Living Pictures, completely reinterpreted iconographically by Stefan Hageneier in their strong colourfulness, which strongly contrasted the mostly monochrome play scenes. All 13 models can be seen in the exhibition.

The exhibition "Stage Form and Stage Design of the Passion Play" is scheduled to be on display at the Oberammergau Museum from 6 April to 7 November 2021. For more information on prices and opening hours, please visit www.oberammergaumuseum.de. Please note that the opening of the museum depends on the covid-19 incidents. The Garmisch-Partenkirchen District Office provides information on the current numbers and status at www.lra-gap.de.


Text: Constanze Werner and Jenny Greza
Photos: Oberammergau Museum, Archive of the Municipality of Oberammergau and Jenny Greza