Electric Ordo Virtutum
Electric Ordo Virtutum
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) celebrated a big birthday in 1998. She would have been 900 years old. A remarkable person of any era (she befriended popes, wrote herbal textbooks, ran a nunnery, and had mystical visions), she also left her mark on music history. The first piece of music by a composer whose non-“Anonymous” name we know, was written by Hildegard (a woman!). She even invented modulation in dramatic music, half a millennium before the idea caught on.
One of her dozens of radically individualistic compositions, the Ordo Virtutum, was chosen for updating by a team of New York artists appropriately named the Hildegurls: Eve Beglarian, Lisa Bielawa, Kitty Brazelton, and Elaine Kaplinsky. These all-rounder, singing/composing/acting women, took one act each of the music drama and recast it in late 20th century Downtown terms. Their 70-minute Electric Ordo Virtutum premiered at the 1998 Lincoln Center Festival with American Opera Projects directed by ace producer (and Einstein on the Beach original cast member) Grethe Barret Holby.
Hildegard’s ecstatic chant melodies sung in Latin are woven throughout but now surrounded by more modern stuff than was available in 12th century Germany: electronic keyboards, samplers, electric guitars, and dazzling lighting and staging: (replete with red lights, smoke, and devilish scenes of binding, rape, etc.). The story depicts the soul’s struggle with Satan himself. Dozens of personified virtues appear and ensure that the former vanquishes the latter.
The disc includes a 40-page booklet with detailed production notes and translations.
The result is a collective recomposition that explodes Hildegard’s reverent chants into a dense, playful orgy of counterpoint, rock rhythms, incantatory drones and electronic noise.”
- Justin Davidson, Newsday
“Occasionally the Hildegurls went in for raw tone or close harmony, and the whole final scene, where Elaine Kaplinsky was in charge, had a quasi-rock sound.”
- Paul Griffiths, New York Times
“Rather than simple drones and a pageant-like presentation, the Hildegurls draw on an extravagant palette of electronic sonorities and presented their piece almost as a rock spectacle.”
- Joseph Hannan, The Early Drama
.....the inventiveness and musical variety here are potent.
- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Gate
The Hildegurls is a particularly impressive band of performer/composers .....who obviously revere this cloistered feminist cult figure, who had visions and enough talent to portray them in song and this liturgical drama, Ordo Virtutum.
- David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer
It is an intricate an innovative approach to the work of Hildegard Von Bingen, when many approaches have tended towards replication, Electric Ordo Virtutum explores with a specifically technological approach and radically reworks the form while remaining true to the essential characteristics of the works portent.
- Cyclic Defrost
...The singing, speaking, sighing, and chanting of the Hildegurls is otherworldly and pushes the envelope for the female voice, picking up from pioneering artists in this arena such as Patty Waters, Joan La Barbara, and Diamanda Galás, but moving forward from that to some extent, it is not often that you hear such singing in ensemble, and here it is realized with perfection. Moreover, the electronics help move the story along and is not used as a commercializing element as it was on EMI's Vision, a release devoted to Hildegard's music to some extent, but also tastelessly repackaging her like a rock star. This attempts to establish a continuum from the present back to Hildegard in an artistic, spiritual, and political way, and it is entirely successful, gripping, and entertaining; the only way it could be better would be if it were a video, and that not being the case, Electric Ordo Virtutum is as good as it's going to get, which is excellent.
- Uncle Dave Lewis, AllMusic Guide