St John Passion

by Johann Sebastian Bach
A scenic oratorio

in German with English and German surtitles
A ritual, a cultic-religious celebration on stage? Bach's heart-rendering musical images of devotion
direct our gaze not only to the otherworld, but also to the individual’s relationship with the collective: the story of Jesus Christ's suffering and death raises questions about domination and affiliation, the suffering of others and our responsibility towards them. In our scenic adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion, these themes are projected by director and stage designer Ulrich Rasche onto the chorus whose perspectives of accusation and compassion are depicted. Which of these we chose as guide lines to live remains an open question.
approx. 2 hours, no interval
World premiere
1724 in Leipzig
There will be an introduction 45 minutes before the performance at foyer I. floor.

I. Actus hortus/Christ’s suffering in the garden
On the night before Passover, Jesus goes with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. There, he is discovered by a mob led by the traitor Judas Iscariot, sent to find him by the Jewish authorities. When the chief priests’ officials and pharisees encounter the divine nature of Jesus they fall to the ground. Jesus agrees to hand himself over to them peacefully if they will let his companions go. Peter, one of his closest disciples, tries to defend him by drawing his sword and cutting off the right ear of one of their entourage. Jesus, however, holds him back, saying he is willing to drink the cup his Father has given him.

II. Actus pontifices/Christ’s suffering before the priests
Jesus is brought before the chief priests for questioning. Caiaphas, the high priest, reinforces an earlier pronouncement: It is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to perish. Peter and another disciple follow Jesus to the palace of Annas the high priest. However, at the door a servant girl asks Peter if he is one of Jesus’s disciples, which he denies. In the courtyard, Peter joins some of the servants and officials around the fire, while the high priest questions Jesus about his teachings. Jesus states that he has nothing to hide and that his teachings are well known to all those who heard them. Upon hearing this, one of Annas’s officials strikes him in the face. Jesus asks him to prove that he said something false and, if this was not the case, to explain why he struck him. While Jesus is led to Caiaphas, the servants and officials also ask Peter if he is a disciple of Jesus, which he again denies. A servant presses him, asking whether it was Peter he saw with Jesus in the garden. Peter denies it for the third time. At once, Peter remembers Jesus’s prophecy that before the cock crowed, he would deny him three times. He goes outside and weeps bitterly.

III. Actus Pilatus/Christ’s suffering before the authorities
Jesus is led from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman authorities. However, those escorting Jesus remain with their prisoner outside due to the Jewish laws concerning the Passover feast. When the governor Pontius Pilate comes out to them, he challenges the agitated crowd to state which charges they bring against Jesus. At a loss as to how to proceed, he tries to delegate responsibility for sentencing to the Jews. Under Roman law, however, they are forbidden from carrying out capital punishment themselves. Pilate takes Jesus inside the palace and asks if he is King of the Jews. But Jesus merely responds by asking whether the question is Pilate’s own or that of someone else. Pilate is puzzled as to why Jesus’s own people should hand him over to the governor. Jesus replies that his authority is not of this world, for if it were, his followers would surely have prevented his arrest.
When asked if he is nonetheless a king, Jesus answers that this is true and that he has come into the world to testify to the truth. But ‘truth’ is unfamiliar to Pilate. In front of the palace, Pilate announces his intention to honour the custom of releasing one prisoner at Passover. However, instead of demanding the release of Jesus, they call for the murderer Barabbas. Pilate subsequently orders Jesus to be flogged. The soldiers continue to abuse him, put a crown of thorns on his head, clothe him in a purple robe and mock him as the “King of the Jews”. Pilate leads Jesus, in this condition, to the front of the Palace and presents him to the crowd. The people demand that Jesus be crucified, though Pilate cannot see a basis for it. Yet, the cry comes back that, according to Jewish law, he must be put to death for claiming to be the Son of God. The trial continues, focusing now on the question: to whom has power from heaven been bestowed on earth? This worries Pilate but he dare not release Jesus because this time the crowd accuse him of a crime against Caesar: he has challenged the sovereignty of the Roman emperor and must therefore be crucified. One final time, Pilate asks if he should crucify the King of the Jews. The crowd reply that they have no king but Caesar. It is thus agreed that Jesus will die by crucifixion and his journey to Golgotha begins.

IV. Actus crux/Christ’s suffering on the cross
Jesus is nailed to a cross in between two criminals. Pilate has had the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”, written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, fastened to the cross. The crowd at the foot of the cross protest that it should instead say Jesus had merely claimed to be King of the Jews. Nonetheless, Pilate stands by his decision. While the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s clothing, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his favourite disciple. When Jesus says he is thirsty, they pass him a sponge soaked in vinegar. This fulfils prophecy and after crying out, “It is finished!” Jesus dies on the cross. The curtain in the temple tears in two and the earth shakes. So that the bodies of those crucified do not remain hanging during the Sabbath and Passover, the decision is taken to break their legs, thus accelerating their deaths. However, since Jesus is already dead, his legs are not broken. One of the soldiers pierces Jesus’s side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water: he was human!

V. Actus sepulchrum/Christ’s burial
Following a request by a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, his body is taken down from the cross. With the help of Nicodemus, who defended Jesus before the Jewish authorities earlier in his ministry, Jesus’s body is richly embalmed, wrapped in linen cloths and laid in a new tomb in a garden near to Golgotha.

Photo Gallery