One of the more interesting performances in the East Meets West concert series presented by Sunset Music | Arts last month was an East-Indian approach to the performance of Hildegard of Bingen’s “Ordo Virtutum” (order of the virtues) presented by San Francisco Renaissance Voices (SFRV), led by Director Katherine McKee. This is one of the earliest extant liturgical musical dramas, making it one of the oldest predecessors as opera as we now know it. A shorter version of the text can also be found at the end of Scivias, Hildegard’s most famous account of her visions:
Illumination from Scivias showing Hildegard having a vision and dictating to her scribe (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
The plot of “Ordo Virtutum” concerns the challenges of the human soul (Anima) to obtain wholeness of the spirit. This is basically a “quest narrative” in which Anima is guided by the Virtues led by Queen Humility. This is one of Hildegarde’s longest single compositions, structured in four scenes preceded by a Prologue and concluding with a processional Finale. The “East meets West” approach to performance of McKee’s production involved the instrumental combination of Diana Rowan on Celtic harp and Deepak Ram on bansuri, a side-blown Indian flute. Todd Jolly provided percussion, and the performance also incorporated a dancers specializing in the East-Indian style.
The scoring of “Ordo Virtutum” requires that both Anima and all of the Virtues be sung by solo female voices. In the SFRV performance Anima was sung by Leandra Ramm, and Linda Liebschutz took the role of Humility. The remaining Virtues and their respective singers were as follows: Hope (Alison King), Chastity (Twila Ehmcke), Innocence (Winona Hendrick), Contempt of the World (Maura Sipila), Celestial Love (Lisa May), Discipline (Elfrieda Langemann), Modesty (King), Mercy (Gail MacGowan), Victory (MacGowan), Discretion (Langemann), Patience (Hendrick), Knowledge of God (May), Charity (Sipila), Fear of God (Hendrick), Obedience (MacGowan), and Faith (MacGowan). The dancers were Jennifer Meller and Isabelle Sjahsam.
This month SFRV will give one final presentation of “Ordo Virtutum.” All singers will be the same except for the role of Anima, which will be sung by Alice Del Simone. It will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 17, which happens to be the Feast Day of St. Hildegard. The venue will be the Church of the Advent of Christ the King, located at 261 Fell Street, roughly across the street from the SFJAZZ Center on the corner of Franklin Street. General admission will be $30 with a $25 rate for students and seniors and $20 for children aged twelve or younger. Those who have been to this church know that it is not very large, which means that seating will be limited. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page; and, under the circumstances, sooner will be much better than later!