Matija Ferlin: Sad Sam Matthäus


Matija Ferlin: Sad Sam Matthäus Foto /Photo: Jelena Janković


After a series of successful projects entitled “Sad Sam”, a collaborative effort between the dramaturge Goran Ferčec and Matija Ferlin resumes with the stage exploration of the relationship between choreography, speech, narrative and performance, deconstructing Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental oratory St. Matthew Passion.

The long-time idea of staging Bach’s St. Matthew Passion as a performance for a single performer and recording is potent in its stage hybridity as it establishes a dialogue between the music and the performative, dance and theatre, the canonical and the personal.

The widely known Passion Narrative provides a preliminary impulse for Ferlin and Ferčec to look into the position of the performing subject and the body that can no longer maintain the activity it once performed with, turning into a body of suffering or passion. What does the body do once it is no longer capable of performing all the tasks it took upon itself? What is the point when the limitation turns into a possibility? What happens if the idea of performance outdoes the possibilities of bodily action?

This piece expands on the theme of death, suffering, temptation, carnality, the relationship between the individual and the society, betrayal and forgiveness, using personal narratives and a metaphysical exploration of the complicated and harrowing deaths in Ferlin’s family. A wide symbolic corpus established thereby blurs the line between the probable and the impossible, the rational and the intuitive, the invented and the real. It is an escape from the banality of death and limitation of life, a small insight into the beyond, small passions and temptations of common people. The narratives are interrelated both through the theme of death and through a metaphysical layer of the story resulting from the desire to see passion, temptation, even death, through a lens more complex than the existential materialistic fear of the inevitable. 

The choreographic corpus of the piece has been established both as a reading of the music and narrative structure of Bach’s passion and as an independent element whose stage logic integrates all external elements into the canonical text of the gospel, choosing not to intervene into Bach’s structure and keep its integrity.

The performance venue is an important element of the overall stage design of the project. Rather than perceiving space as a mere venue, the authors consider it to be a kind of “museum”, a place that safekeeps a particular type of holdings whose very presence “performs” and sustains the performance at the same time. It is a space brimming with the most diverse artefacts; a museum of things, a museum of narratives, a museum of movements, a museum of voice, a museum of choreography, a museum of resonances from past works in the Sad Sam series related to the ideas of suffering, temptation and forgiveness.

Seeing that the recordings of Bach’s monumental piece last from 150 to 220 minutes, the performance of Sad Sam Matthäus also actively explores the concept of duration as the connecting togetherness in suffering. Duration thus becomes one of the fundamental elements of the performance, as important as dance, language, music or space; for duration is a challenge, both for Ferlin the performer and for the audience as witnesses of the performance. 


Direction, choreography, performance: Matija Ferlin
Dramaturgy: Goran Ferčec
Text: Goran Ferčec, Matija Ferlin
With Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244 in a recording performed by Philippe Herreweghe / Collegium Vocale Gent, licensed courtesy of Harmonia Mundi / [PIAS]
Stage design: Mauricio Ferlin
Sound design: Luka Prinčič
Light design, technical direction: Saša Fistrić
Costume: Matija Ferlin
Direction assistance: Rajna Racz
Production management: Maja Delak
Production assistance: Sabrina Železnik
Executive production: Silvija Stipanov
Visual materials: Tina Ivezić, Christophe Chemin, Ana Buljan  
Translations: Danijela Bilić Rojnić, Ana Uglešić, Katja Kosi, Maša Dabić
Translations of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” libretto English and French translations are a courtesy of Harmonia Mundi; Croatian translation is taken from Sundays’ readings published by Kršćanska sadašnjost (Christian Present, Zagreb, 1971) or translated directly from German by Alojzije Domislović from Čazman-Varaždin Choir Chapter (Varaždin, 1989); Slovenian translation is a courtesy of the archive of Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra


Production: Emanat, Matija Ferlin
Co-production: Wiener Festwochen, CND Centre national de la danse, Istarsko narodno kazalište – Gradsko kazalište Pula
Partners: Mediteranski plesni centar Svetvinčenat, Bunker / Stara mestna elektrarna – Elektro Ljubljana
With support of: Zagrebačko kazalište mladih
Financial support: Ministrstvo za kulturo RS, Mestna občina Ljubljana, Grad Pula, Grad Zagreb


Despite the three-hour duration, the play is ultimately too short, at the same time brazenly megalomaniacal, controversially explicitly religious, and yet, from the first entry of the performer Sad Sam Matthäus touches us on the most intimate personal level.
21.06.2021, Plesna scena, Izvanserijsko kazališno izkustvo, Iva Nerina Sibila

Croatian choreographer Matija Ferlin turns Johann Sebastian Bach's great oratorio into a rousing contemporary dance performance.... An artistically extremely successful, poetic and political piece that, despite its respectable duration, does not fade for a second.
11.07.2021, Der Standard, Bachs Matthäus-Passion als Solo bei den Wiener Festwochen, Helmut Ploebst

The "St. Matthew Passion" by Johann Sebastian Bach is a mammoth work that musically celebrates the suffering and death of Christ in almost three hours. Perseverance is necessary for this, as the Croatian choreographer Matija Ferlin knows. He uses this sound background in "Sad Sam Matthäus" to address questions of transience, pain and dying. The colorful and touching result celebrated its premiere on Friday evening at the Wiener Festwochen.
10.07.2021, Salzburger Nachrichten, Ferlins "Sad Sam Matthäus" bei Wiener Festwochen akklamiert

During the pandemic period, instead of solidarity, Ferlin looks directly into the abyss of suffering, creating compelling, complex work on the hidden social, family and personal wounds we carry within us, while revealing surprisingly intimate personal memories.
20.07.2021, Neodvisni, Intimno srečanje v soočenju z neizbežnostjo trpljenja, Urban Belina

No less extraordinary is the work of Matija Ferlin, which enriches the Wiener Festwochen, brings past and present together, turns religiosity through the meat grinder and thus triggers visible emotions between admiration and amazement in the guests. “Sad Sam Matthäus” is ultimately as paradoxical in its design and formulation as life itself."
29.07.2021,, Jedes Ende ist ein neuer Anfang: SAD SAM MATTHÄUS bei den Wiener Festwochen, Daiel Gilić


Sad Sam Matthäus by Matija Ferlin is a magnificent and monumental stage contemplation with the soundstage of Bach's Passion after Matthew, which places intimate memories of suffering and death alongside the tragedy of history, but does not forget the playful self-irony. With fragmented temporal dramaturgy that constantly meanders between time periods, the events intertwine and complicate themselves and, reminiscent of the nature of human memory, strain ambitious associative arcs between stage aids, narratives and events. The multi-layered performance language subtly recognizes the complexity of our lives and human emotions and skillfully connects different stage levels, weaving a complex network of citations and associative connections to create an exciting poetic and contemplative performance experience that captures the core of human existence.
13.06.2022, Association of Theatre Critics and Researchers of Slovenia, DGKTS Award for the best performance last season: Sad Sam Matthäus

The performance Sad Sam Matthäus, produced by Emanat Institute and Matija Ferlin and co-produced by Wiener Festwochen, CND Center national de la danse and Istarsko narodno kazalište - Gradsko kazalište Pula, received the Croatian Theatre Award for the best performance in the field of dance.
24.11.2022, Croatian National Theatre, Croatian Theatre Award for the best performance in the field of dance

Matija Ferlin received the Croatian Theatre Award for the best male role in the field of dance in the performance Sad Sam Matthäus.
24.11.2022, Croatian National Theatre, Croatian Theatre Award for the best male role in the field of dance

Sad Sam Matthäus, directed, choreographed and performed by Matija Ferlin, is undoubtedly exceptional in terms of total work of art – Gesamtkunstwerk – and something rarely seen in contemporary dance. The performance functions superbly on almost in every way – on the levels of concept, dramaturgy and implementation, as well as aesthetically and visually. It should be noted here that the visual stage identity of the performance is not merely an aesthetic aspect that is an end in itself, but works in close synergy with the substance of the performance; it is the matter that makes spirit visible.
It was the synergy of the now long-standing cooperation between set designer, costume designer and lighting designer that produced an excellent result and convinced the jury to award a joint prize for this collective achievement. Mauricio Ferlin created a scenography that is only seemingly megalomaniac – it is basically a kind of museum or archive, in which Mauricio and Matija Ferlin use recycling materiality to bring into view both personal and performative memory, using parts of scenography from previous performances. Saša Fistrić managed to subtly shape the light, which oscillates between the more intimate and obscured atmosphere of the artist’s workshop in the first part, through the open and “working” light in the transition, to the skilful nuances and creation of atmospheres in the second part. This time, Matija Ferlin’s costume design in the performance is not expressive, colourful or rich as in some of his previous works. In Matthäus, the costume design itself is minimalistic, in dark, black tones, but the transformation that takes place between the two parts of the play is stunning. Before our eyes, using his performative, acting and physical abilities, Matija Ferlin completely and convincingly transforms into the character – which is also made possible by the correct and well-thought-out costume design that enables the transformation.
25. 2. 2023, The Contemporary Dance Association Slovenia, Ksenija Hribar Award for the overall visual image of the performance Sad Sam Matthäus (scenography, costume design and lighting design) - Mauricio Ferlin, Matija Ferlin, Saša Fistrić

Previous events

  1. , ZKM, Zagreb, HR
  2. , ZKM, Zagreb, HR
  3. , Linhartova dvorana, Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, SI
  4. , ACTORAL, La Criée, Marseille, FR
  5. , ACTORAL, La Criée, Marseille, FR
  6. , International Festival Divadelna Nitra, Nitra, SK
  7. , INK, Pula, HR
  8. , INK, Pula, HR
  9. , Festival DDD, Campo Alegre, Porto, PT
  10. , Festival DDD, Campo Alegre, Porto, PT
  11. , ZKM, Zagreb, HR
  12. , ZKM, Zagreb, HR
  13. , Mladi levi, SMEEL, Ljubljana, SI
  14. , Jugendstiltheater am Steinhof, Dunaj, AT
  15. , Jugendstiltheater am Steinhof, Dunaj, AT
  16. , Jugendstiltheater am Steinhof, Dunaj, AT
  17. , Stara mestna elektrarna - Elektro Ljubljana, SI
  18. , Stara mestna elektrarna - Elektro Ljubljana, SI
  19. , Centre National de la Danse, Paris, FR
  20. , Centre National de la Danse, Paris, FR
  21. , Istarsko narodno kazalište – Gradsko kazalište Pula, HR