Magma is about ritual and our relationship with nature. The traditional rites of passage from nature to culture – once powerful instruments of social integration and knowledge – do not exist anymore. Yet, humans still need rituals. To be meaningful today a rite of passage needs to take the inverse route, and go from culture back to nature.

In Magma a woman lives through different experiences that bring her close to an unexpected understanding of nature, as a frenzied, violent and irrational force, as a living magma perpetually regenerating. When her “inverted” rite of passage is over, the woman realises that her new awareness cannot be shared, and that there is no going back.

An old Nordic folktale introduces and frames the action. It sets the mythical mould that forms the basis of the woman’s behaviour, and allows a better understanding of the ritual dimension of the plot.

The idea for this work came from my personal experiences in a faraway country, while music and narrative evolved from the desire of setting up a reaction between different cultures, using – in a kind of inverted ethnology – the cultural criteria of so-called primitive societies to analyse and unmask our own behaviour.

The text of the libretto is by the Germano-Irish poet and writer Sebastian Schloessingk.

In Magma there are a number of musical and theatrical issues that I wanted to explore:

  • The relationship between speech and song, and the way to convey meaning in operatic writing: there are two actors on stage, and their speech is measured, without being rhythmically altered. At the same time key words from their text are sung by two singers for each actor. The singers are like added dimensions to the stage characters, and project musically the meaning of the words.

  • Real-time control of electronics in performance. The production of Magma took advantage of a new tool for live electronics, the MSP set of audio objects for the Max programming environment for the Macintosh. MSP had just come out in 1998, and in Magma it is used among other things for real-time convolution of voices and percussion with different sound sources. Magma is the first major Italian music production to use MSP.

  • Research in dynamic harmonic fields: they become elastic entities that follow closely the dramatic structure of the work. While writing an opera for the stage, compositional procedures should be closely related to, and even dependent from the dramatic structure of the work. Harmonic fields become here elastic, continuously self-modifying entities, that adhere as a second skin to the dramatic surface of the opera. On top of their fundamental harmonic identity, these fields may acquire – according to the dramatic situation – other dimensions. A historical one, in the shape of a direct intersection with patterns of notes clearly belonging to a given style, or a geographical one, where musical elements from distant cultures are integrated in the harmonic structure of the fields.

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Commissioned by CIDIM, the Italian National Music Committee, together with the Rossini Theatre in Lugo di Ravenna and the Toscanini Foundation in Parma, Magma was premiered in Lugo in March 1998, with the following interpreters:

Alessandra Cecchini, Soprano
Margherita Salio, Mezzo-soprano
Maurizio Leoni, Baritone
Danilo Serraiocco, Bass

Francesca Brizzolara, Donna
Gabriele Volpi, Uomo

Denise Fedeli, conductor
Gigi Dall’Aglio, stage direction
Tiziano Santi, stage design
Tempo Reale, live electronics
Orchestra del Teatro Rossini di Lugo