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Italian town of Sordevolo is all about Passion

Marco Caldi who plays Jesus grew up Sordevolo. He perfected his English while training be scubdiving instructor San Diego Calif.

Marco Caldi, who plays Jesus, grew up in Sordevolo. He perfected his English while training to be a scuba diving instructor in San Diego, Calif. | Lori Rackl~Sun-Times

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The U.S.-based travel company Central Holidays will offer several vacation packages built around Sordevolo’s passion play; (800) 539-7098,

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Updated: November 2, 2011 5:30AM

SORDEVOLO, Italy — Oberammergau, Germany put on the most famous passion play in the world last year, but it wasn’t the only place in Europe to witness a moving performance of the final days of Christ’s life.

The tiny hamlet of Sordevolo in northwest Italy’s Biella province staged its own grand production, called “La Passione.” It’s been doing so every five years for the past two centuries — about half as long as the passion play tradition in Oberammergau, where the production takes place every decade.

Sordevolo’s play is similar to Oberammergau’s better-known version in that the entire town — population about 1,200 — seems to be involved. Some folks make the costumes. Others design the stage and set, which are outdoors, in front of a 2,500-seat amphitheater. Roughly 200 residents get to act, spending the better part of a year rehearsing their roles.

For Sordevolo native Marco Caldi, 38, that role was none other than Jesus Christ. Last year’s production was the fifth time Caldi has been part of the cast.

“I was just one of the Jews before,” said Caldi, who perfected his English while training to be a scuba diving instructor in San Diego, Calif. “Then, I was a Roman chief. This is my first time being Jesus. It’s really been something.”

The play’s script is written in a medieval form of Italian that’s difficult to follow for locals, let alone English speakers. But hey, we all know the story.

Sordevolo put on 31 shows last season from June to September. I was lucky enough to catch a 2½-hour evening performance — half as long as Oberammergau’s version. It was easy to forget that the children and adults I was watching were all amateurs, not professional actors. Roman soldiers rode real horses on the sandy stage. The music sounded beautiful. Christ — ahem, Caldi — looked as if he actually were nailed to the cross.

The woman who played Jesus’ mother, Mary, kept crying long after the show ended.

“Every time, I get emotional,” she said post-play, looking a little embarrassed as she dabbed tears from her eyes.

Tickets to Sordevolo’s passion play won’t go on sale again until 2014 for the next season in 2015.

That’s a long time to wait — but not compared to Oberammergau.

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