Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) celebrated a big birthday in 1998. She would have been 900 years old. To mark the anniversary, one of Hildegard’s dozens of individualistic compositions, the Ordo Virtutum, was recast by a team of New York artists appropriately named the Hildegurls: Eve Beglarian, Lisa Bielawa, Kitty Brazelton, and Elaine Kaplinsky.
While this cannot be regarded as a recording of Hildegard’s Ordo virtutum standing next to the other five [recordings], it must be admitted that a lot of serious effort went into the production. Both the vocal and instrumental performers and the engineers (both sound and computer) have contributed highly professional work. As an effort to create something new out of something old, it is a huge success, on the order of Carl Orff’s Carmina burana. (Fanfare)
These all-rounder, singing/composing/acting women, took one act each of the music drama and recast it in late 20th century Downtown terms. Their 70-minute Electric Ordo Virtutum premiered at the 1998 Lincoln Center Festival with American Opera Projects directed by ace producer (and Einstein on the Beach original cast member) Grethe Barret Holby.
It is an intricate an innovative approach to the work of Hildegard Von Bingen, when many approaches have tended towards replication, Electric Ordo Virtutum explores with a specifically technological approach and radically reworks the form while remaining true to the essential characteristics of the works portent. (Cyclic Defrost)
Hildegard’s ecstatic chant melodies sung in Latin are woven throughout but now surrounded by more modern stuff than was available in 12th century Germany: electronic keyboards, samplers, electric guitars, and dazzling lighting and staging: (replete with red lights, smoke, and devilish scenes of binding, rape, etc.). The story depicts the soul’s struggle with Satan himself. Dozens of personified virtues appear and ensure that the former vanquishes the latter.
The singing, speaking, sighing, and chanting of the Hildegurls is otherworldly and pushes the envelope for the female voice, picking up from pioneering artists in this arena such as Patty Waters, Joan La Barbara, and Diamanda Galás, but moving forward from that to some extent, it is not often that you hear such singing in ensemble, and here it is realized with perfection. Moreover, the electronics help move the story along and is not used as a commercializing element as it was on EMI’s Vision, a release devoted to Hildegard’s music to some extent, but also tastelessly repackaging her like a rock star. This attempts to establish a continuum from the present back to Hildegard in an artistic, spiritual, and political way, and it is entirely successful, gripping, and entertaining; the only way it could be better would be if it were a video, and that not being the case, Electric Ordo Virtutum is as good as it’s going to get, which is excellent. (AllMusic Guide)