SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER
HILDEGARDE VON BINGEN
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER
Hildegard imagines three of the most pivotal events in the life of 12th-century German Benedictine visionary/composer/polymath Hildegard von Bingen unfolding within three months. The year is 1147, and Hildegard has begun transcribing her visions of God in the hope of obtaining Papal approval, at grave risk of ex-communication. She enlists a young convalescent, Richardis von Stade, to help illustrate her visions. The two women quickly develop a transformative partnership that awakens them creatively, spiritually, and – much to each woman’s internal conflict – romantically. In the meantime, a dispute with Hildegard’s superior costs her and her novice daughters the right to make music, underscoring Hildegard’s fundamental lack of agency in the male-dominated monastic culture and jeopardizing her standing within the Church. As Hildegard anxiously awaits approval of her visions, the love between Hildegard and Richardis becomes impossible to ignore. An unforeseen crisis threatens their hard-won accomplishments and the intimacy – in all its complexity and secrecy – that has become their salvation.
A tale of two gifted women struggling to find their voices in a time and place where female voices were forbidden, Hildegard is a story of love, awakening, and devotion in the face of doubt. It is about the desire for connection – to humanity, to spirituality – and the conflicts that compete therein.
The composer writes:
“I wrote the libretto myself because I had an idea for how to tell her story and wanted the freedom to adapt the text as I wrote the music. For the past eight years, I’ve extensively researched her life and work, monastic culture, and the broader political history of her time. I’ve visited her abbeys and the town where she was born and have developed a close relationship with Hildegard scholar Barbara Newman.
Traditionally, opera has not been an art form that tells stories of strong, accomplished women. The operatic repertoire will offer a deeper, more nuanced, more relevant view of humanity if it does this. Hildegard’s story shines a light on the past while illuminating our present day, as the challenges Hildegard and Richardis faced – discrimination, oppression, repression – are surprisingly resonant today, almost nine hundred years later.”
With her words, visions, and music as inspiration, Hildegard strives to paint an intimate, affecting portrait of two fascinating women that is not only timely but musically powerful, visually striking, and narratively captivating.
Commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects. Developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects. Additional support provided by William Kennedy. Commissioned in part by the OPERA America Opera: Grants for Female Composers award funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The production of Hildegard received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Fund.
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