Hildegard & Volmar Review by Anthony Borsato
Hildegard & Volmar is an exploration of the music and life of Saint Hildegard of Bingen and her relationship with her long-time companion Volmar. Saint Hildegard was a prophet and a composer. In fact, she’s the earliest woman whose music has survived.
I was able to see Hildegard & Volmar on the 21st of May at the Glasshouse Brewery in Forest Glen. Where we were treated to some beautiful food provided by the staff at Glasshouse Brewery (food including Arancini balls, Croquets and a Lamb Stew) before moving into the main performance space. I do not believe that food will be provided at the other performances but it was a joyful prelude to the opening night shows.
The music was the real highlight and the real drawing force behind this show. Hildegard’s chants create a beautiful soundscape that made the repressed-catholic in me sit to attention and triggered something visceral inside me. The traditional instruments used are not seen played often in modern times. I do not believe I have heard a psaltery or Vielle before attending this show, and if I had definitely not in live performance. The stringed instrumental music was beautifully subtle that allowed the complexities of Hildegard’s chants to really shine. The fact that I do not understand Latin never distracted from the beauty of these hymnal moments.
Two large brewery vats played background to the performance. Their large handles on the front hatch forming subtle silver crosses highlighting the religious imagery. These vats even seemed to shed tears of condensation when Hildegard began her mourning chant upon the death of Volmar.
This is definitely not a play. It is, as described, a musical poem about the friendship between Hildegard and Volmar. There is something refreshing about this friendship. Usually, when we hear historical stories of strong women, men are trying to tear them down. But Volmar supported and uplifted Hildegard and the monastery she created for her sisters. He was devoted to her, not as a lover (as far as I can tell), but devoted to her through friendship and faith. You are only allowed into snapshots of their life together in the monastery she built in Bingen; as they write music and work towards sharing Hildegard’s prophetic visions with the world. You do not learn her life story but what you get is an understanding of who she was. A woman with strong conviction and vision.
Overall I had a largely enjoyable night watching Hildegard and Volmar. At times it was a little academic and I believing adding some dramaturgical complexity would have heightened the entire performance. But as said the chants sung beautifully by Amada Cole and the music by Kim Kirkman are the highlights of the entire piece and hold great beauty.
You can still catch Hildegard and Volmar at Solothurn Chapel, Reesville at 3 pm on Sat 25 May and at Holy Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley at 3 pm on Sun 26 May. Tickets available at www.anywhere.is/hildegard