Spectacular visuals at the world premiere of pop oratorio #Himmelreich in Hamburg

GermanyGermany Sigi Hänger and Christoph Oellig, #Himmelreich: Soloists, Chorus, Orchestra / Gerrit Junge (conductor). Barclays Arena, Hamburg, 20.4.2024. (DMD)

Conductor Gerrit Junge with orchestra and chorus © Jenny Rosentreter

In Germany, the New Apostolic Church has around 300,000 members across three local sections. One of these, covering Northern and Eastern Germany, was behind the organisation and logistics of a massive pop oratorio (#Himmelreich / #Realm of Heaven) which had its world premiere on 20th April 2024, delayed due to the pandemic by at least two years. The project was endorsed and supported by the Council of Christian Churches in Germany. Many of the 1300 members of the chorus were members of the New Apostolic Church, which was probably also true of the audience of around 6000.

A chorus of 1300 was seated in the arena behind the stage, with the stage floor covered in beige or white, and a small number of raised areas and large walls or cubes to depict different locations of the plot. A full orchestra of 100 musicians (coming together especially for this production) was placed at the back of the stage, behind those raised levels, with predominantly the conductor visible to the audience. Two large screens above the stage projected closeups of the events on the stage, or of the chorus and the orchestra, as well as German subtitles of the spoken dialogue and the lyrics of individual songs and chorus numbers.

The plot, developed by Benjamin Stoll, who also wrote the spoken dialogue and the song lyrics, was simple and straightforward: Marc is the protagonist, hard-working, rich but superficial to start with. His girlfriend is Chloe, even more superficial, who asks Marc to chase away the homeless people outside their posh block of flats because their noise annoys her. He was mugged on a previous occasion, so she insists he leave his watch, wallet and keys behind – she already has his credit card on her, all set for a shopping spree. Marc goes out to speak to the homeless people, but since Chloe leaves before he has returned, he is locked out of his flat, cannot prove his identity and is mistaken for one of the homeless. He gets to know some of their stories, and falls in love with Victoria, who has chosen to spend her life among the homeless, overcome by religious belief in the power of God. In the course of the few hours of the oratorio, Victoria is killed in a violent fight between members of two rival gangs seeking to control life on the streets and offering false protection to the homeless. Before her death, Victoria promises Marc that she will meet him again, in the realm of heaven of the oratorio’s title.

The plot is structured around eight of the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew – blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted because of righteousness. The plot was carried by the characters, their spoken dialogue and their individual numbers, which were pop songs. The chorus commented on the events and the characters predominantly by quoting the beatitudes, identifying these in the action that we had just seen.

The score by composers Sigi Hänger and Christoph Oellig worked well in combining the full classical orchestra with aspects of pop music, thus justifying the title pop oratorio, which signals this fusion of styles. Here, the fusion worked very well indeed. Conductor Gerrit Junge brought out the strengths of each of those strands, and Sigi Hänger on the keyboard was outstanding in his own solo numbers. The sound of the huge chorus, together with the acoustically well-balanced orchestra at full throttle, was very impressive in the vast arena space, as intended, but without becoming overpowering.

The individual songs and the choral passages were enhanced by lighting design that was nothing short of spectacular. It was created for the project in conjunction with professional media provider Poolgroup. Depending on the mood created by music and plot, the LED floodlights, spotlights and search lights were combined in a multiple array of colours and degrees of brightness, sometimes accompanied by numerous mobile phone lights held and waved by members of the chorus.

Sigi Hänger and Christoph Oellig’s #Himmelreich in Hamburg © Jenny Rosentreter

The principal singers, all professionally trained and experienced, clearly enjoyed their work and gave it their all. Nathanael Mägli sang the main character, Marc, clearly demonstrating his character’s shift from more to less naïve. His pure, focused and strong baritone voice served him well for his solos and he also stood out in ensembles. Anna-Rabea Pacheco was Victoria, the human saint of the homeless people on the street, the one overcome and changed by her belief in God. Her soprano voice was highly expressive both in slower, gentle, romantic passages and in those expressing the character’s passionate belief. The voice hovered easily above the orchestra (not merely because of the way the sound was relayed through the arena’s sound system) and even when at full volume her voice was unstrained, its impact to be spine-tingling. Mareike Gerdes had the largest singing part of the homeless characters; her full and well-rounded voice was very well-suited to the emotional nature of the music and lyrics composed and written for her character, Nica.

The minor characters among the homeless people, the two gang leaders and their respective sidekicks and followers were appropriately cast and well-acted. Their solo singing was more than competent. In particular, Loretta Müller as Marc’s girlfriend Chloe was both funny and gave her character the necessary dimension of being annoyingly dim-witted. Jürgen F. Schmid and Dannie Lennertz were very convincing as the evil gang-leaders without resorting to clichés. Clarissa Börner was moving as a homeless person who embarrasses her daughter by her involuntary malapropisms – which added some comic relief to the plot. Martin Ricken played Charly, a well-meaning, simple homeless man, who seeks to pacify and comfort anyone he encounters. As a result, he is loved by all the homeless characters but also victimised and beaten up by the gang members. Jill-Bintou Stoll, Jada-Banu Stoll and Emia Börner played the adolescents and children among the homeless people with appropriate levels of streetwise precociousness. Benjamin Stoll, who also directed in addition to being the author of the plot and lyrics, created a unified production, streamlining spoken dialogue, musical numbers by the characters and oratorio-pieces by the chorus into a harmonious and meaningful complete aesthetic.

Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe

Director, Plot development and Lyrics: Benjamin Stoll
Costume design – Samira Schenk
Lighting design – Poolgroup
Make-up – Petra Herzler-Grossmann
Chorus director – Gerrit Junge
Assistant directors – Birthe Tietken, Thorsten Koy, Maya Heusser


Marc – Nathanael Mägli
Victoria – Anna-Rabea Pacheco
Chloe / Carla – Loretta Müller
Nica – Mareike Gerdes
Charly – Martin Ricken
Dario – Dannie Lennertz
Fred – Martin Rietsch a ka 2schneidig
Dana – Clarissa Börner
Lilli – Lina Junge
Branco – Jürgen F. Schmid
Louisa – Jill-Bintou Stoll
Tirza – Jada-Banu Stoll
Isabella – Emia Börner
Boris – Stephan Halama
Ronny – Stefan Drieling
Joey – Dennis Richter
Alexander – David Ostermann
Bouncer – Carsten Schulze
Shop assistant – Benjamin Stoll

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