Luciano Berio: Passaggio

Luciano Berio Passaggio

Luciano Berio: Passaggio

Year of composition:
Messa in scena
Luciano Berio
Original language:
Markus Kutter; Céline Zins (29.06.1979); Luciano Berio
Luciano Berio; Edoardo Sanguineti (09.11.1962)
She, soprano (on stage)
2 SATB (Chor A im Orchester, Chor B in 5 Gruppen im Saal verteilt)
2 0 3 2 - 1 2 2 1 - perc(5), hp, harm, alto sax, t.sax, e.guit, vla(1), vc(1), cb(1)
Instrumentation details:
1st flute (+picc)
2nd flute (+picc)
clarinet in Eb
clarinet in Bb
bass clarinet in Bb
alto saxophone in Eb
tenor saxophone in Bb
horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
1st percussion: marimba, side drum, wood chimes, hi-hat, fl. à coulisse, guiro, maracas, rattle
2nd percussion: 2 bongos, side drum, 3 tom-tom, 5 wood blocks, 2 cymbals (1 with sizzles), 3 triangles, 2 spring coils, tubular bells, 2 gongs, fl. à coulisse, wood chimes, quichas, 2 log drums, jingle bells
3rd percussion: vibraphone, side drum, 2 bongos, 2 tumars, tambourine, bass drum, 2 spring coils, 5 tam-tams, 5 cow bells, 5 temple blocks, sand block, fl. à coulisse, 2 log drums
4th percussion: glockenspiel, 2 bongos, 5 cow bells, quichas, 2 tam-tams, 2 cymbals (1 with sizzles), 2 spring coils, fl. à coulisse, 2 log drums, whip
5th percussion: xylophone, side drum, hi-hat, wood chimes, guiro, maracas, fl. à coulisse, rattle
electric guitar
1 Grunddekoration
a Darius Milhaud
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Passaggio (for soprano, two choirs and instruments) caused a scandal when it premièred at the Piccola Scala in 1963. “I knew the audience would lose their heads so I briefed the choir accordingly. I told the choir that they should join in as soon as the audience starts shouting, echo the last word and improvise on it. And that’s exactly what happened. Some people shouted “Buffoni”. The choir echoed the word immediately, sped it up, whispered it, lengthened the “o” and turned the improvisation into part of the performance. The audience became completely hysterical because they had lost their chance to protest.” (Luciano Berio)

In Passaggio, musical theatre is engaged in an attempt to make the relationship between audience and stage more flexible, almost trying to establish a physical dialogue between them. There is of course a kind of extremely avant-garde music which, by setting itself up as a challenge to the audience, almost demands an angry reaction so that the hissing, the buzzing and the protests become a part - casual but expected - of the concerto of sounds and noises performed on the stage.

But the authors of Passaggio have not adopted this technique: in creating a direct relationship between stage and stalls they foresee that the audience may react, but they do not see any such reaction as an essential ingredient of the action. In order to establish the dialogue a chorus is distributed amongst the audience (Chorus B, as opposed to Chorus A which performs in the orchestra pit), which will constantly intervene in the protagonist's stage performance, addressing her and commenting on her actions.

The audience might react to the chorus with irritated antagonism: but that would be a superficial response, because the authors are inviting the audience to recognize itself in this chorus. We are being asked to play an active part: understanding that the reactions, the insults and the appeals of Chorus B express a clearly defined human standpoint in which all of us must in some way be able to see ourselves. It is a standpoint made up of conformism, defense of taboos, egoism, mental laziness, dogmatic adherence to fixed principles. It is the standpoint that characterizes audiences calmly inhabiting traditional opera houses, arranged in its classes and ready to accept the fixed order of relations between man and man that the very structure of the theatre suggests.

At this point the audience can make a further choice and decide whether Chorus B really represents its own ideals, its own fears, its own anger and its own laziness, or whether it should side with what Chorus B opposes: the solitary figure of the woman on stage. The authors have called Passaggio a “messa in scena” which beyond its French equivalent “mise en scène”, that is, "staging", also means in Italian a “Mass on Stage” (not an opera, in order to avoid pointless misunderstandings): it does not aim to present a recognizable plot but rather to depict a basic human situation by means of a series of dramatic nuclei. It is the passage of a character through a sequence of tragic situations in which we can imagine her oppressed and beaten by the bestiality of others who are sure of their myths and their idols. (When Berio and Sanguineti met to create this work, each had in mind a model female.

The authors have talked about a "profane passion": it is as if the protagonist suffers the stations of a modern via crucis whose moments are capture (the woman against a wall), torture, imprisonment, which takes the form of a sort of grotesque public auction in which the prisoner is reduced to merchandise, the definitive reduction to a thing amongst things, merchandise amongst merchandise, and at the final station there is a sort of recapitulation in the form of a narration and the ultimate sense of the events is revealed: "this is our passage".

The choice is between the various concrete meanings that can be given to the various situations in which we see the protagonist. The choice is between Chorus B and the woman, between two models of humanity. And the choice is not only aesthetic but also moral. Sanguineti individuates in this work a drama in which the sacrifice of the victim neither purifies nor pacifies anyone: it must provoke a reaction, a protest, a decision. If the members of the audience want to be purified, the characters will not give them an easy option. It will be a matter for each one of us, once we have understood, once we have left the theatre.

In order to build this play of opposites and this problematic structure into the musical texture, Berio has made a series of practical decisions which are best illustrated in his own words:

"The soprano (She), the 28 soloists, Chorus A (in the orchestra pit) and Chorus B (among the audience) develop - independently of each other - a series of harmonic relationships and relationships between registers (using them either as a series of chords, a harmonic background, or a polyphonic arrangement), which constitutes one of the principal structural elements of the connecting passages - sometimes gradual and sometimes sudden - between one morphological situation and the next.

More precisely:

from maximum to minimum textual density and complexity

from maximum to minimum on the scale of instrumental possibilities (as quiet or as loud as possible, as high or as low as possible, as short or as long as possible, etc.)

from tutti to solo

from 'noise' to 'sound'

from speaking to singing (and all the intermediate vocal emissions)

from voice to instruments

from indeterminate to determinate

from discontinuous to continuous

'Station I' is exemplary in the sense that it conglomerates and expounds all the principal models of transformation. The musical relationship between the officiants (She, Chorus A and Chorus B) is reflected in dramatic and symbolic situations which are sometimes unanimous and sometimes contrasting: the relationship varies from maximum unanimity (when the protagonists contemporaneously undergo the same kind of morphological transformation, which sometimes results in onomatopoeia) to maximum contrast (when the transformations take place at different speeds and in different directions).

Another important structural element is the constant presence of 'varied recapitulations': like interruptions, obstacles in the way of the performance: real 'ritornelli', assigned independently to the soloists and (at Station II) to the soprano, which are always out of phase and are never heard as simple repetitions but rather as constantly changing colorations of a single material".

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Special prints


Luciano Berio: Passaggio

study score
, 35’
Instr.: 2 0 3 2 - 1 2 2 1 - perc(5), hp, harm, alto sax, t.sax, e.guit, vla(1), vc(1), cb(1)


Luciano Berio: Passaggio

study score
, 35’
Instr.: 2 0 3 2 - 1 2 2 1 - perc(5), hp, harm, alto sax, t.sax, e.guit, vla(1), vc(1), cb(1)


Luciano Berio: Passaggio

full score
, 35’
Instr.: 2 0 3 2 - 1 2 2 1 - perc(5), hp, harm, alto sax, t.sax, e.guit, vla(1), vc(1), cb(1)


Luciano Berio: Passaggio

full score
, 35’
Instr.: 2 0 3 2 - 1 2 2 1 - perc(5), hp, harm, alto sax, t.sax, e.guit, vla(1), vc(1), cb(1)

World première

Luciano Berio

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