Hildegurls – Electric Ordo Virtutum (Innova)

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hildegurls
Contemporary interest in the work of Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179) has been considerable and there are a number of faithful renditions of her considerable surviving compositions generally available. Whether the interest is a result of feminist scholarship or a late 20th Century resurgence in mysticism is moot. This 2009 release is a recording of a 1998 New York production by the Hildegurls; a group comprising of Lisa Bielawa, Eve Belgarian, Kitty Brazelton, Elaine Kaplinsky and directed by Grethe Barrett Holby.

The clear distinction with this production is the utilisation of electronic manipulation: in the Prologue the use of an electronic drone consisting of prolonged samples of a refrain. Multitracking of vocals to create chorus, use of a harmoniser to create a vocal counterpoint effect and digital sound processing to reproduce organum effects. Sampling is heavily utalised especially in the sections pertaining to dialogue delivered by the devil which is effectively constructed as a profoundly disturbing and confusing sound event. In act 2 tape is used to create vocal harmonies of 12 singular virtues with the live chorus of virtues and in act 3 different aspects of the soul are represented in acoustic samples of instruments. Besides all the allegorical use of sound devices to construct this morality play, Elaine Kaplinsky plays keyboards, Kitty Brazelton electric guitar and various percussion instruments are utalised.

Composition of this work into a vibrant and complex event, which conveys the essential ecstatic struggle and eventual triumph of the soul with satan, rests with Grethe Barrett Holby. Having founded American Opera Projects and been a prominent in modern opera in America for over 25 years, she is also a choreographer, director, performer and adaptor of operatic works. 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.

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