NiteLifeExchange Cabaret & Fringe Aug. 28, 2009
Hildegard of Bingen And The Living Light
By John Hoglund [abridged]
How often does one get a glimpse into the life a monastic nun from the 12th century? How often does one want to? In the case of a lady who was called Hildegard of Bingen, it becomes as compelling a story as it is fascinating. In her day, she became known as Sybil of The Rhine. and, by the time it winds up, the observer is left with an ethereal intelligence of a forgotten era that has pro- foundly impacted them.
Certainly, this is one of the most original and historically captivating pieces of art to emerge in many moons from a cabaret-theater artist. It's opera. It's theater. Mostly, it's unique in the truest sense of the word. Hildegard of Bingen has been called by her admirers "One of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages," and "the greatest woman of her time." In this intelligent and original piece, "Hildegard of Bingen And The Living Light," filmed at Master Works Festival, wonderful cabaret/theater actress/singer Linn Maxwell, as writer and performer, stretches the gamut of her talents to the fullest as the Abbey nun who came to be revered for her wisdom and visionary gifts as well as her songs. Maxwell is riveting in a way that commands her stage (which is in front of a candlelit altar) without overpowering it. She transforms what might have been a pro- saic period play with music into something bucolic and engrossing - and oddly contemporary. The audi- ence can't help but be pulled in. Ultimately, the observer realizes that this is a serious work of art that needs to be seen by the masses. Finally, something that hasn't been done to death emerges. Everything about Hildegard of Bingen is refreshingly different. And, as a piece of art, it fuses something archaic and obso- lete with a 21st century sensibility about a remarkable woman who was ahead of her time.
Skillfully directed with great attention to detail and historical insight by Erv Raible who also designed the period costumes and set, this play with music was heavily researched and artfully pieced together. Maxwell is quite outstanding as the German Abbess nun through her insightful observations and warmly delivered narrative. Her mezzo is, at times, haunting in the difficult Gregorian style and she has the ideal voice for an austere setting such as this. She also has the gift to make a tale from the 12th century come alive and morph into something that is realistic today. It's a turn that should reach a wider audience. The musical play con- tains seven liturgical style songs by Hildegard that are sung by Maxwell with a convincing delivery that shows the power of strength and vulnerability. She also manages to play two ancient psalteries, Anglo- Saxon and medieval harps.
Fast forward; Nine hundred years later, Hildegard returns to channel her message (Viriditas,) holistic heal- ing and salvation, through the artistry of Linn Maxwell in a commanding performance that is as scholarly as it is relevant today. She fills the abbey with her voice; a compassionate performance of a triumphant lady worthy of exploring further. This piece could well become the catalyst to a larger work with addi- tional performers. It is worth expanding.