Hildegard Synopsis/Composer's Statement
Hildegard imagines three of the most pivotal events in the life of 12th-century German Benedictine abbess/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, and the two women quickly develop a transformative partnership that awakens them creatively, spiritually, and – much to the internal conflict of both women – romantically. In the meantime, a dispute with Hildegard’s superior costs her and her novitiate 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, and an unforeseen crisis threatens both 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.
I chose to write the libretto myself, based on Hildegard's writings, so that I could develop the text and music simultaneously. 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 consulted 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 many of the challenges Hildegard and Richardis faced are surprisingly resonant today, almost nine hundred years later.
With Hildegard's words, visions, and music as inspiration, Hildegard strives to paint an intimate, affecting portrait of two fascinating women that is musically powerful, visually striking, narratively captivating, and socially relevant.
The opera is currently a work-in-progress. It will workshop at the Princeton University Atelier program in Fall 2023 at the Lewis Center for the Arts, co-taught by Snider and conductor Gabriel Crouch.