lamberto coccioli

on music and beauty

Tag: Sebastian Schloessingk

Magma reviews

Excerpts from published reviews of the opera

“Coccioli succeeding even in surprising us, thanks particularly to a skilful exploitation of electronic techniques. …Themes a little ambitious certainly, in the confines of a lyrical work, but which Coccioli seizes the essence of, with a certain poetry and beautiful suggestive moments.”
Nicola Gandolfi, Opera International, June 1998

“If there is one strength in particular that Magma can claim, it is the (one might almost say ‘Berianesque’) capacity of the composer to establish his own style, whatever the historical and ‘geographic’ diversity of the sonic means at his disposal. And a highly theatrical characteristic of this style derives from the dramatic skills of the score, which never allows the tension to lapse.”
Enrico Girardi, L’Opera, May 1998

“It is a music rich with its own strong, communicative immediacy, combined with a search seemingly for the roots of an original, primordial vocabulary. It refers to diverse experiences and languages, bearing in mind perhaps above all the lessons of Berio, but in an autonomous fashion, with a play of interactions where the tension never dips (for instance, in the highly effective ending)”
Paolo Petazzi, L’Unita’, 23 March 1998

“Last Friday, with astonishing simultaneity, two in different ways memorable premieres: at Genoa Venus and Adonis, by Hans Werner Henze, and at Lugo di Romagna by contrast the first opera of a ‘de luxe’ debutant, Lamberto Coccioli, pupil of Luciano Berio and Azio Corghi… An archetypal trajectory, oneiric, perhaps a nightmare that Coccioli, thanks also to Sebastian Schloessingk’s edged and aphoristic text, reads with wide open eyes, so multiplying vertiginously the languages and ‘materials’ of the performance: song, speech, acoustic sound, artificial sound, film, stage design, all rigorously deprived of their centre, their functionality. But loosened into each other by the most limpid and organised discipline of metamorphosis.”
Guido Barbieri, Il Gazzettino di Venezia

“Magma, or The See-Through Wilderness, a new opera by the young composer Lamberto Coccioli, presents a music of such lambent sensuality and richly dramatic colour that it cannot but convince even those weaned on an exclusive diet of bel canto…
But it is Coccioli’s music, from the shimmering soundscape of the Introduzione to the pounding heartbeat of the Finale, that insists that this work find a place in the international repertoire, redefining ‘Italian opera’.”
Adrian Dannatt, The Independent, 27 March 1998

Translated from Italian and French by Sebastian Schloessingk

Magma, or the See-Through Wilderness

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.

* * *

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

Magma libretto

This is the original libretto of the opera by Sebastian Schloessingk. An Italian translation of the libretto, by Susanna Basso, Sebastian Schloessingk and myself, was used for the Lugo performance.


      Once upon a…
princess   princess  
    Look she’s  
playing, I’m      
  in the meadows    
near home      
    the lovely meadows  
in my little white gown      
  her crown and her    
    gold heart on a chain  
      When out of
the forest, look!      
  an elk! an elk! an elk!
an elk!      
    no fear  
It’s coming! Look      
  How big!    
    and its muzzle  
I’m stroking! Mum! I’m…      
      the big strong elk
Can I go with you? Can I go with you?    
      but all the dangers
but I want to see      
  the world the world  
      the dangers
and you      
  will protect me    
    the elk thought and said the elk thought and said
Mum! The elk      
  says so    
      the elk
and me      
  go on a journey go on a journey  
      into the forest
  the hills    
    and softlands  
forest hills softlands forest
  going through all    
funny places      
    a tufted marsh  
      Careful princess
  it’s full of    
funny people      
      Careful dear
What are they, elk?      
      Elves. They’re elves
elves! elves!    
  they’re not there    
    Who are you, who…? [quiet]  
      Careful now
  what’s your name? what’s your name? [getting louder]  
  Come on, what’s…? Come on, what’s…?  
      Careful princess!
  your name? Who are…?  
Hey, help, my crown!      
  Got it [delayed echo] Got it [delayed echo]  
  And keep it And keep it  
  First Time Around First Time Around First Time Around
  The Princess Lost Her Crown The Princess Lost Her Crown The Princess Lost Her Crown
  Then in the marsh    
    an island where  
My Elkie lives      
let me sleep      
  the princess put    
near to you      
  her gown on a tree    
    and slept and slept
because the elk      
  is keeping    
  and the next day    
  the princess said the princess said  
I’ll go bare      
  naked naked naked
all day and      
  hold the gown    
    in her hand  
      Careful dear
I want to see      
  more and more    
    of the world  
and up      
  she goes    
      and the elk runs
  like the wind like the wind like the wind
    into the wood  
      your head down!
  so fast    
    watch the branches! watch the branches!
    the branches  
  whip the princess whip the princess  
slow down, elk!      
  down slows the elk    
      [audible breath]
    moss and lichen  
  on the stones    
    like a rug  
all the colours all the colours all the colours all the colours
      [audible breath]
but it is      
what’s that      
  there and    
    there, it’s  
      haunted, deary
behind the trees      
  its eyes    
    ice green  
      A haunted wood
and mouth      
  blood red    
    witch [flat quiet]  
      of the wood
  careful! careful!  
      what’s your name?
      little girl!
  It’s Cottongrass    
      And what a lovely
  careful (whisper) careful (whisper)  
      dress. Do let me
      the material
  Don’t! (whisper) Don’t! (whisper)  
      Go on
  Don’t! Don’t!  
      Just let me
  Don’t! Don’t!  
      touch, look, just
Go on then      
Now give it      
      not bad
back, I said      
      ha! ha! [violent, harsh]
    too late  
      ha! ha! [diminuendo]
  And the second time around And the second time around And the second time around
  She lost her gown She lost her gown She lost her gown
  She didn’t like that    
Not fair      
      Even the elk
  was angry about it    
    But they pressed on  
Not fair      
  till night    
    ever deeper  
      into the forest
  and when the sun    
    found them out  
  the girl is asleep    
    trusting and naked  
  and the elk    
      keeping an eye
wakes me up      
  wake up!    
where we going?      
    It is the time  
      the pool
What pool?      
    No human  
      has ever
  seen it    
What pool?      
    in the forest  
    the leafy pool the leafy pool
  we’ll soon be there    
it’s so dark      
  what is?    
the water      
  all the princess    
    is wearing now  
      her golden heart
  on a chain    
    I gave to her  
my little chain      
      careful dear
Look if I look      
  down into the pool    
      you can see
my little heart      
  getting closer    
    to the dark  
  I knew it    
    I gave it  
my little heart!      
    sidling down  
      to the bottom
my little heart!      
  of course of course of course
I want it      
    it’s gone it’s gone
where is it?      
    forget it  
it’s there!      
  forget it forget it  
somewhere, Elk!      
      what is it?
Find it!      
Elk! Elk!      
      What is it?
Don’t go      
  Then come Then come Then come
But elk!      
    Then come [quieter]  
But elk!      
      What is it?
But elk!      
But elk…[quiet]      


Girl Woman 1
soprano, mezzo-soprano

body body body body
body body body
body body
body goes to the head
to the head
head head
add! add!
oh heart
body body
to the head
and! and!
heart regret
body regret
and! and!
add! add!
head sex
head sex
her sex

Girl Woman 2
soprano, basso

body body body body
body body

hope hope
weight sex
sex weight
her sex
head sex
sex sex sex
her sex
weight hope
sex sex sex
her sex
sex weight sex weight
weight sex weight sex

Couple Talk
Woman, Man
mezzo-soprano, baritone

Let’s play that game…

Can I come in?
It suits you, it really…
Let’s play that game…
I prefer you
Amazing meal
Leave me alone

Ooh cold feet
Course I do
Let’s talk, right?
Big or little?
Just give me some reasons
You’re so good to me

About when you were a child…
You go
So? So?

If you ever fucking…
Remember that time…

She’s pretty, isn’t she?
Don’t be like, don’t…

Is that supposed to be a joke?
Come on, we’re late
You’re mad, you’re fucking…
Put your hand
Where you ringing from?
OK you can look
Do you never ever stop to think…
Because you are an exception
Is it for me?

Relax, take it easy…
Your father would turn…
So what did you make of them?
Because I’m crying

You’re so impolite
But I like to touch

If you’ll let me finish…

Darling, don’t worry, OK?

He’s only my friend
Nothing, nuh-thing

You talk so much crap
Sleep now, sleep

Your turn, go on
And shut the door
Feeling better?
Here we go, over and over
The keys, where the pissing…?
It’s your lover
And don’t wake me up
Give me time, OK?

I don’t believe it
Can we turn over?

Yeah yeah

So where to this year?
Shut the fuck…
I like it when you…

Who says?
It’s cosy
Listen, you have your friends and…
Look at that view
I could fucking sue..
Let’s stay in bed
You do what you want
Don’t answer it
No need to shout
‘Cos I’m fond, I’m really…
Keep doing that
For you or for me?

Yes, I do care
Stop looking at yourself, will you?
And your first boyfriend?
I’m reading. Reading.
Look at me will you
So. Did you like the film?
Where’ve you been?
Who was that?
Peace I want peace

You’re just a bastard.
Tell them the story
Words words words
Don’t give me that
Just a goodnight kiss
I like your body
You’re looking tired
Don’t change the subject
I’ve always known
Go fuck somebody else
Why are we stopping?
What about your mother?
Because I say so
Look, it’s still dirty
Are you being sarcastic?
The old wonderbra
You’re so stupid
How much did it cost?
Don’t ever use that word in my hearing…
At least I tried
Not like that
It’s your bare tummy, drives me…
How could you
Words words words
Well, look after yourself
Don’t be pathetic
Your hands. Is what I noticed first
Is this a wind-up?
Typical fucking woman
You’re getting fatter
Didn’t you once said you loved me?

O.K.! O.K.!
I was worried about you

You fucking try
Let’s, yeah, come on, let’s…

The things we…
Go. Go. Go. Go!

And then?

Those legs of yours
Get out of my life
Answer the question
Just like your fucking family
You look so young
Just piss off, leave…
We can’t afford it
It’s my body
You never talk like…
You’re lying again
And then you rang
Don’t touch me
Shush, I know, I know
The night we were talking…
Men just need to
Let me breathe
That’s great, that’s perfect
Inside or out?

You choose
No really you were the best-looking…
Don’t pressurize me OK?
A bit higher… a bit lower…
You’re all arseholes

Girl Woman 3
soprano, basso

heart heart
heart heart
body regret
sex regret
body regret
body body body
body body body
body body
body body
body body
body body
body body
and! and!
sex and!
heart weight
trees sex
trees heart


Ironic Chorus
Woman, Man

So, the woman has started.
Fat hope.
What’s she after?
She is ill-advised.
But she is not happy.
Strange to say.
And will she get happy like this?
Who can tell?
Who can say?
But we say , fat hope.
But she is not happy.
And who can blame her?
We can, we blame her.
Who are you?
We men.
Which men?
The new men.
Who try.
We’ve read about you.
And about her?
She’s out there and who knows?
Search me. Search me. Search me. Search me.


I’m speaking to no-one
It was so hard to go that I couldn’t.
It was goodbye to all that built…
Inviting, protecting and unreal.
I didn’t fit, I did not fit.
What I came up with was mostly nothing.
The way it went, I was the enemy.
To them and to me and…
An enemy learning to see, I suppose.
In the night, or asleep.
I could see but I couldn’t move.
You’d say it had the shape of trees.
When I went, which I did.
If it wasn’t such crap.
I’m told it’s crap.
What I was after.
And a long time till their voices…
Gave me the space.
Space, and difficulty.
Trees for women, is different.
But not to say, that’s not to say…


Third Voice

I don’t know, I’m so far behind it
You’re very quiet. I like that
But it’s not easy to have been
You won’t see many, of the things, you just won’t
Don’t look at me like that, like all alone. We both are
Anyway you wouldn’t appreciate … where
You’re so far away, your eyes are all big and hurt. No, stay there, I’m thinking
I’m thinking. Later, later. I won’t be like this forever
Come here

Song Of The Pool

Beyond the woods
Whichever way you come
With a harder looking face
There is a pool
Surrounded by woods.
Divided by ripples
If any.
Scarcely broken by
the ripple, or lit.
Loosened ties,
wooden tears
stain my face and spear the water
slum it and clear it.

Wall Of Voices
Woman, Man

Went of her own free will.
Trees shed leaves because of wind.
Didn’t desert him.
Because of the wind otherwise hitting
and knocking the whole body down.
Now I doubt if he exists.
Alone in the forest and going
all animal or one sad human?
Never want to see her again
unless she comes and knocks and says
and not even then.
Think you’ll be snapped out of it
soon enough by B-roads crossing
the wood, saved and saddened? Think again.
It’s not something done with other women.
The B-roads and stretches of sodium lights
have slunk away forever.
I never had the attention span
to read enough into the difference.
A month in nature becomes grotesque.
After a month do you still say ‘I’?
Until I was suddenly casually ready
to sort for myself the moon size problems.
If he calls me here, will I pick it up?
Or pity the repetitive sound
of a small creature no worse than the rest.
It’s not the shadow of the heart you fool.
Group nature? Group nature?
There is less reason to be afraid
even in the night than in the suburbs.
And it’s an outrage when from way off
a face with the right hair turns and refuses.
The wilderness so matter-of-fact.
I am not for him and not against him.
The automatic spurts of animal fright.
If they ever ganged up, but they don’t.
Sunlight is an omission by clouds.
If my footsteps make no noise, what then?
Trees and nerves and lungs and needs…

© Sebastian Schloessingk 1998

…the sun is out, the sun is out

The title of this work for large orchestra is the last line of Boys And Girls Between The Wars, a poem by Sebastian Schloessingk I have also set to music. The original work for voice and four instruments is the starting point for ...the sun is out, the sun is out . The original instrumental gestures are projected and expanded in a vast orchestral space, and acquire a completely new dimension. This process of transcription, of reading again and translating the same material in different forms, obviously inspired by the lesson of Berio, has always fascinated me.

Composed in 1994

Boys And Girls Between The Wars

In Boys And Girls Between The Wars I wanted to use Sebastian Schloessingk’s poem – both its phonetics and content – as the source of all the musical ideas. The text generates a form for the composition, and the music occupies a vast territory between onomatopeia and metaphor, bringing to life contrasting musical objects held together by subtle harmonic relations. This piece serves also as the model for a later orchestral piece, ...the sun is out, the sun is out.

Finally, Boys And Girls Between The Wars is also a profoundly felt homage to the wonderful Chansons madécasses by Maurice Ravel, one of the highlights of vocal music of all times, written for the same instrumental ensemble.

Written in 1994 and revised in 2001, Boys And Girls Between The Wars was premiered by Sarah Busfield, voice, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Liz Johnson on 27 June 2001, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

Clouds move in parallel rows
granting the sun stern terms,
So when the clouds pull off in all
directions, like torture horses,
a camera’s shutter,
birds from shot, salt water
from a rock, this is childish.
A big child in a garden of bouncy
foliage. Look.
Original sky, fat bombers slog
across it, the child is a boy. Great flowers
dash up to the bombers’ lumber and pry
decorating round their legs, the child is
a girl, the sun is out, the sun is out.

© Sebastian Schloessingk

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