Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light

Hildegard of Bingen is a twelfth-century German abbess now famed for her extraordinary writings and music. Linn Maxwell’s one-woman show combines seven of Hildegard’s original songs with dramatic enactments of the story of her life to make a religious and musical cabaret which shows a profound engagement with what the work of Hildegard has to offer to us today.I fancy myself as a bit of a medievalist, so I was disappointed to feel a little like an impoverished nephew trapped in the drawing room of a particularly mad maiden aunt with an odd passion for nuns. A late start and lack of front of house staff meant the audience was disgruntled by the time they took their seats and the unnecessary amplification, for Maxwell is evidently an accomplished opera singer, meant I felt a bit battered into my seat.The last five years or so of medieval scholarship have not been assimilated into Maxwell’s interpretation of Hildegard and I felt wider reading would have helped Maxwell to capture the alien nature of medieval culture as well as the alien nature of Hildegard. Audience members hoping to learn about Hildegard should be warned that much of the show, for example the ‘authentic’ medieval instrumental accompaniments, is imagined for the completeness of the performance. Maxwell’s achievement in re-imagining the larger-that-life character that is Hildegard in beautiful costume and vivid personality cannot be underestimated: it is work like this that can keep the beauty of medieval music alive.

Reviews by James T. Harding

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★★
Bedlam Theatre

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★★★★★

The Blurb

Lively portrayal of a 12th-century German abbess with a timeless message of hope for today. Mezzo soprano Linn Maxwell portrays this amazing woman, performing seven Hildegard songs, accompanying herself with four medieval instruments.