Sunday, February 27, 2011

20Sep1880, Passion Play at Oberammergau

MUNICH, September 20th-26th, 1880.
—Slept at Munich (good hotel des 4 Saisons), went by train to Murman, and posted thence by Kohlgrub to Oberammergau, which we reached just before dusk. The village stands in rather a wide marshy valley, with fine mountains; but there is nothing specially beautiful.

Sunday, Sept. 26th, was the day. I got up early and went to Mass in the church at 6, joining as far as I was able and saying my own prayers. The church crowded, and many communicants. The village full of people, many swarming in from the neighbourhood. The play began at 8. We were very well placed, under cover, in the "Loge" with backs to our seats. I grieve to have to confess that I was disappointed; but I do believe chiefly because of the impossible ideal created by the extraordinary raptures I have heard and read from all quarters. I had not been prepared, for instance, for the allowance one ought of course to make for the whole thing being done by the peasants of the village. It was no wonder that the music was very feeble, few good voices, and it went occasionally out of tune. Then the stage is inevitably exceedingly inadequate to the great scenes of the Judgment Hall, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Mount of Olives. In a few respects, too, one saw the pity of the poor people having formed their ideas upon common rural notions of art; too much spotty brilliancy of colour, etc.; and then, in the Crucifixion, there was too much likeness to the usual great crucifixes by road-sides. But my principal criticism was the really unavoidable one that it was all hopelessly inadequate: the subject too tremendous for human power adequately to present; and this it was which made me feel that one could hardly get a glimpse beyond the mere outside of the great subject. So I realized rather painfully how possible it must have been during the actual Holy Days to see nothing Divine: for the words to be true, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" This, however, is the whole scope of my disappointment. The intense devotion, "recueillement," and reverence of everyone concerned, down to the tiny children in the tableaux, cannot be exaggerated; all thro' one felt one was assisting at a religious act: the acting was without exception dignified, unaffected, and in some cases (especially the Judas) of true dramatic power. Joseph Maier (the Christus) has a very noble appearance and manner, but his face is not of the traditional type. Our ignorance of German was a grievous drawback, for there was much more speaking than I expected; but it had one good result—of making the Bible words, when they occurred and one could catch them, shine out like diamonds.

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