Deutsche Oper Berlin

St Matthew Passion


Bismarckstraße 35, 10627 Berlin

Johann Sebastian Bach


In German language with German and English surtitles

The reports of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Bibles are among the foundations of European culture. Bach created a musical ritual for the believing congregation of his time with "Matthew Passion". But what does the Passion mean for a diverse society in which the Christian religion is increasingly losing relevance? What do its central motifs mean - betrayal, hatred, fear of death, trust, love and forgiveness - performed in a secular opera house? How much distance is created? And what kind of community can be experienced in a performance in which the audience and Berlin amateur choruses are also invited to sing along? 

On the work

Bach’s St Matthew Passion (1729) was originally a work designed for performance in St Thomas’s, Leipzig, as a religious ritual for the congregation during the Good Friday liturgy. On the death of Bach this vast and epic composition ceased to feature in the annual ecclesiastical calendar. A century was to pass before the work resurfaced in public consciousness, triggered by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s legendary “Rediscovery” with the newly formed “Berliner Sing-Akademie”, which also opened a new page of Berlin culture. In 1829 this gathering of the faithful to sing the Passion and celebrate the values expressed within coincided with the movement to foster a national German identity. The emergence of a form of artistic/religious expression coined by an autonomous Berlin citizenry appears closely associated with performances of the St Matthew Passion, and to this day Bach Passions continue to feature prominently on the programmes of large choirs and choruses.

On the production

In his staging of the St Matthew Passion director Benedikt von Peter is interested in the extent to which the suffering of Christ can be considered meaningful to a diverse society in which the Christian religion is becoming less and less relevant. How can we grasp the core motif of suffering in today’s world? How much distance to the subject is created at a performance of the piece in a secular venue such as an opera house? And what kind of community is possible?

In his directorial work in musical theatre over recent years, Benedikt von Peter has attracted attention above all with some striking uses of performance space, focusing on the “architecture of a work”, which he seeks to extend from the composition to both stage and auditorium. A St Matthew Passion already written for two choirs by Bach is extended by von Peter over the entire auditorium and main stage. Four orchestras, assorted sections of the Deutsche Oper chorus and a number of Berlin choral societies are spread throughout the hall. The audience – some seated on the stage looking backwards into the auditorium – are encouraged to join in with the singing, with this dual-performative structure producing a sensation of community within the secular setting of the opera house. At the centre of these proceedings the staged action of the Gospel text is played out: children and teenagers narrate the story and provide portrayals of agony, suffering and death – in close proximity to the audience and dovetailing with the musical interpretations of the soloists. A conventional frontal perspective on a picture-frame stage is dispensed with in favour of a religious rite performed together by adults and children, by lay choral singers and professional artists, each with his or her own individual perspective on a 2,000-year-old text and its history of cultural impact.


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Deutsche Oper Berlin

Bismarckstraße 35, 10627 Berlin-Charlottenburg

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