When you’ve lived in a country long enough–even if you tend to live in a bubble or under a rock–eventually local cultural phenomena infiltrate your consciousness. As Easter approached this year, I had one of those moments where something that had vaguely hovered on the periphery a few years in a row suddenly punctured my little bubble and made it’s way in: The Passion–a live Christian rock opera of sorts combined with a silent march that occurs each year on Holy Thursday and is broadcast live on TV.
How did I find out about it? Through my church? No. Through my Dutch husband or friends? No. Actually, it occurred while I was reading a rather heart-wrenching New York Times article on my iPhone while waiting for my son to finish his guitar lesson. It was about a U.S. soldier who was imprisoned while suffering from PTSD. When I saw an advertisement pop up, I actually clicked on the ad as a means of postponing my knowledge of this one young soldier’s fate.
The advert took me to an article about The Passion 2017 that would be broadcast live that evening on television. You could virtually “join” the march online. My mind reached into its memory banks and excitedly announced that this “Passion performance” was something I’d come across before. Coincidentally, we had just resolved a technical issue with our television, which means I had access to TV once again. I put it on my digital agenda and hog tied my son into watching it with me.
To be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of contemporary versions of Bible stories, but that night, I gave my critic a rest and settled into the couch to watch the live performance. I wasn’t alone. According to NOS news, 44 percent of all viewers who were watching television at that time were watching The Passion along with me! That equates to almost 2 million people. Another 16,000 were participating live in Leeuwaarden.
Considering The Netherlands has a population of approximately 17 million, that’s more than 10% of the nation! Almost twice as many people were tuned into The Passion as those tuned into the quarter finals of the European League soccer match between Ajax and Schalke. And the Dutch LOVE their soccer.
Jesus was played by Dwight Dissels, a tall, dark and handsome singer with an amazing voice.
A striking red-haired woman named Elske DeWall played Mary and she sang in Frisian, a language spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands. This was also quite fitting considering the concert was held in Leeuwarden, which falls within this province. Omri Tindal, a young man from Rotterdam with a rich musical career and fantastic hair, played Peter.
The entire performance was in Dutch (Frisian part was subtitled in Dutch), which meant that it was also like a musical Dutch lesson for me. Although many people say I’m close to fluent, I still can’t read the NRC newspaper without looking up at least 10 words per article. But the words used in this broadcast were completely within my grasp.
The cast was diverse, talented, energetic. I Enjoyed the entire performance and felt like I’d learned something that night about how the expression of religion doesn’t need to be confined to a church. I don’t view these sort of performances as a means of converting anyone, but it can certainly make an important religious story accessible to a broader segment of the population, and make it fresh to those who have heard it before. Well done folks!