- Demonstration Performance of the Cividale Planctus Mariae: A Report
Audrey Ekdahl Davidson’s transcription of the Planctus Mariae contained in Cividale, Reale Museo Archeologico Nazionale, MS CI, fols. 74r–76v, was originally prepared in 1986,1 but remained unpublished and used only for a performance in 2006 after being checked for accuracy by her a little more than six weeks before her death on June 11 of that year. Since she had been involved in directing nearly a dozen productions of medieval music dramas, including Hildegard of Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, during her career,2 she was well aware of the sharp debates over how such dramas can or should be revived. Each performance for her was an experiment, and each was different in some way from the others that she directed. In this manner, albeit necessarily working with local singers essentially untrained in early music, she entered into the discussion about authenticity in performance that was being argued in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The argument over authenticity tended to focus on a number of important matters, including vocal production and style, instrumental technique, choice of instruments, improvisation, articulation, phrasing, accurate regional pronunciation, and even fidelity to the notes as written. 3 At the heart of the discussion is the question of how to restore lost traditions, or indeed whether they should be restored. It is obvious that the expectations of original audiences, particularly in the case of a musicdrama sung within liturgical settings, could not be precisely replicated in our time. Chant techniques, which must have differed from region to region, and its notation have long been the subject of controversy. The project would require not only to resurrect what was heard but also to discover what was seen, the latter actually somewhat less problematic than the former in the case of the Cividale Planctus Mariae on account of the presence of extensive rubrics in the manuscript and the availability [End Page 287] of iconographic evidence for the laments at the foot of the Cross. What strategies should be taken to “show it as it really was,” as the saying is? How are these aims consistent with performances that are convincing as both music and drama? Should the music-drama, closely tied to the liturgy as it was, be expected to resume its connection to ritual in order to achieve its maximum effectiveness?
That such medieval plays, separated from their normal religious context, can be tremendously effective as drama in our own time has been demonstrated on numerous occasions in the years since large audiences responded to The Play of Herod presented by Noah Greenberg and the New York Pro Musica in the early 1960s—a production that powerfully staged the killing of the children from the Ordo Rachelis that was added to complete the story of the Herod, both edited from the Fleury Playbook in collaboration with William L. Smoldon.4 Greenberg and his company made significant compromises, however, not the least of which were to amalgamate these two separate plays from the same manuscript source into a single drama and to obtain the services of a stage director without the encumbrance of significant knowledge about the original presentation of these dramas. Yet these performances were very convincing at the time, while they also implicitly suggested a number of options for subsequent productions of other examples of this genre.
After Greenberg, two directions were taken by those who produced the medieval music drama: (1) to attempt to achieve as much authenticity as possible, especially by embedding the plays in liturgy and producing them in locations that give the “feeling” of the original; and (2) to aim for musical and theatrical effectiveness in our time without concern for questions of authenticity. Fletcher Collins’s film of the Visitatio Sepulchri is a very effective example of the second direction, its setting in the monastic church of the Abbaye St. Benôit-de-Fleury at St. Benôit-sur-Loire providing atmospherics rather than a view of “how it was done” in the thirteenth century when the manuscript of the Fleury Playbook was compiled. The Society...