Passage by Luciano Berio

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Passage by Luciano Berio

On first hearing the name, Passage by Luciano Berio is not a production many people have heard of. It is a haunting and somewhat depressing production that eats away at the audience’s soul, feeling the emotions and struggles the character has experienced.

Berio concisely named the character ‘She’, and was based on the Jewish journalist Milena Jesenka (1896 – 1944), who died in Ravensbruck concentration camp. In literary life, she was featured as a friend of Franz Kafka and Rosa Luxemburg (1870 – 1919).

Berio described how he produced Passage as a stage mass and the chorus contained numerous references to Biblical texts. For this, the chorus had to learn to speak in Latin, Italian, German, French and English. It was designed to draw the audience in and become part of the people.

The composer based the concept of Passage on the German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s concept of ‘passage’ through the linguistic Umberto Eco. Deeply dark and moving, Berio used Passage to promote the concept of change, which is both unavoidable and necessary in life. 

Berio was more concerned about giving meaning to the operatic genre than he was at bringing to an end to the partition of stage and auditorium. What comes across in his productions is the fact that Berio wished to speak out about the conflicts that were seriously damaging the world. However, he does this without resorting to a preaching approach or with an intensely dark and depressing manner. Instead, he is able to achieve his goals by using both subtle wit and satire.

Luciano Berio was born on the 24th October 1925 in Oneglia (now Imperia in Liguria in northern Italy). Under the guidance of his father, he began his musical studies at a very early age and then continued them with Ghedini at the Milan Conservatory. During a study visit to Tanglewood in 1951, he studied under Dallapiccola. With Bruno Maderna, in 1954 he opened an electro-acoustic studio (Studio di Fonological Musicale di RAI) in Milan. During 1950 to 1966, he was married to the Amish American singer Cathy Berberian.  

A ‘messa in scena’, the libretto to Passage was produced by Edoardo Sanguinetti. It first premiered on the 6th May 1963 in Milan at the Piccola Scala.


She (Soprano)

Chorus (Alto, Bass).


In the ‘station’s of a young woman’s life; she tells of her personal and political passions, including her career, incarceration, her torture, her prosecutions and her experiences at prostitution.


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