THE IMAGINED TESTIMONY OF THE EXTRAORDINARY MEDIEVAL ABBESS, HILDEGARD OF BINGEN.
A mesmerising concertplay by Clare Norburn. Blurring the boundaries of drama and concert, Vision explores the extraordinary life of the visionary medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen, alongside her haunting and distinctive chant.
Vision provides an insight into the painful and visceral visionary experiences Hildegard suffered throughout her life. It is “an imagined testimony” as Hildegard, played by actor Teresa Banham, revisits and re-experiences meaningful episodes from her past.
"Norburn and mezzo Ariane Prüssner are mesmerising in the music. An austerely beautiful piece about a woman whose faith gave her extraordinary strength and courage"
"It was the overlap of, interaction between, and communication of the music of Hildegard — two voices and medieval harp — and her spoken word, delivered by Teresa Banham, which made the show such a unified, deep telling... It may not have been billed as a Lenten devotion, but if a moment for reflection is needed, or the desire to understand more of Hildegard is to be fulfilled, it is well worth making the time for this."
“beautifully sung…. a really special musical experience”
"a multimedia experience of light, song, music & storytelling"
ABOUT THE WORK - Clare Norburn
Vision aims to give an insight into the painful visionary experiences Hildegard suffered throughout her life, covering some of the core emotional moments.
While the script is grounded in research into Hildegard’s life, I was actually more interested in exploring how she experienced those moments than in giving a detailed historical account.
So Vision is 'an imagined testimony' as Hildegard revisits and re-experiences meaningful episodes from her past. It explores questions such as: what did it feel like to be taken away from her family at the age of 8? How did she experience the visions which she referred to as 'the Living Light'? What was the physical experience of her visions? What did it feel to have so much responsibility in an age when women were generally powerless and silent?
The meaning of the visions and their physical form is fascinating. Much has been written on the matter from several perspectives, including the well-known psychiatrist and neurologist Oliver Sacks, who concludes that Hildegard suffered from “scintillating scotoma”, a form of migraine. Hildegard herself wrote about the experience, explaining that she saw visions accompanied by a great blinding light, with her eyes wide open: "the light that I see… is far, far brighter than a cloud that carries the sun. …. I call it ‘the reflection of the 'Living Light'." Sometimes she refers to hearing a divine voice which explains and introduces the visions.
There are so many extraordinary things about Hildegard that I couldn’t cover them all. There are important episodes, especially later in her life, that I skip entirely. Instead, I have tried to capture the frenzy of her activity on her major work Scivias which she wrote over 10 years in her 40s and 50s. Scivias is Hildegard’s outpouring of activity, after, in her early forties, she finally is compelled to speak of her visions, rather than suppressing and denying them a voice, as she did throughout her early life. Scivias has been described as "a prophetic proclamation, a book of allegorical visions, an exegetical study, a theological summa. Finally, it may be considered as a multimedia work in which the arts of illumination, music and drama contribute their several beauties to enhance the text and heighten the visionary message." (Heinrich Schipperges: Das Schone in der Welt Hildegards von Bingen.)
Some of Hildegard’s music is represented as the final outpouring of her visionary three-volume work Scivias. It is almost as if Hildegard has no more words; through music, she can 'say the unspeakable'.
Towards the end of Vision, Hildegard’s own voice from Scivias begins to take over. You will hear her extraordinary writings about music. Here, as in Scivias, music has the final word, as Hildegard looks forward to her death in a symphony of sound.
For further reading about Hildegard we highly recommend the book by The Guardian/Observer Music Critic, Fiona Maddocks: Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age (ISBN 10: 0571302432 ISBN 13: 9780571302437
Publisher: Faber & Faber, 2013)
Teresa Banham as Hildegard of Bingen
Clare Norburn, soprano
Ariane Prüssner, mezzo
Jean Kelly, medieval harp
Directed by Nicholas Renton
Written & produced by Clare Norburn
Lighting Designer Natalie Rowland
THANKS TO OUR FUNDERS
The Empowered Women tour (Vision, Into the Melting Pot and Unsung Heroine) is funded by Arts Council England, The Golsoncott Foundation, Unity Theatre Trust and The Marchus Trust.
Vision and Unsung Heroine, including the films, are supported by The Ambache Charitable Trust which is active in raising the profile of women composers.