Greek myths are one of the most formative collections of folklore in Western thought. Myths are the sacred speech that deal with all the underlying emotions and archetypes of their culture. Tragedy is the vehicle of pathos, and tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is among the most heartbreaking. When Orpheus, the son of a muse, loses his wife to a snake bite on their wedding day he enters the underworld on a quest to get her back. Hadestown is a polishe 2010 folk opera that came out of a stage show imagining the myth as a post-apocalyptic depression era drama, where Hades rules in an underground mining community and the river Styx is a wall. Vermont-based Anaïs Mitchell’s concept album stars herself as Eurydice, Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Greg Brown as Hades, Ani DiFranco as Persephone, Ben Knox Miller as Hermes, and the Hayden triplets as the Three Fates. With clever lyrics and fine orchestral accompaniment by Michael Chourney, these musicians have created a soulful, charming, and complex musical adaptation
“Wedding Song,” introduces the Orpheus and Eurydice’s love in a playful call and response. The power of Orpheus’ music to charm nature to his bidding is referenced, also gives implications of his financial situation, marking the fateful day of the myth. “Epic I” is a Greek chorus, explaining Hades’ character and the world of story. “Way Down Hadestown,” is vivacious with Hermes’ gristly voice howling the opening: Persephone is going home to Hadestown for the winter in fanfare. Orpheus and Eurydice display their contrasting views of the underworld. Her naiveté leads her to Hades’ gravelly seduction in “Songbird,” and her choice is defended by the Three Fates. Orpheus’ descent into the dark continues, illustrated catchy tracks lush with life and influenced by musical genres like jazz, ragtime, and so much more.
Hadestown’s music swings from from joyful dances to the achingly beautiful, flowering one after the other and showcasing the talents of each marvelous singer. The setting is palpable in its folkways without losing its mythic touch, illuminated by expressive voices that give a sense emotional changes and of class distinctions. Greg Brown makes a majestic subterranean Hades and Ani DiFranco’s Persephone is wise and equally powerful. Justin Vernon characterizes Orpheus with his poetic longing, a hero to make gods and ghosts weep. Anaïs Mitchell’s girlish voice and brilliant lyricism builds the story up to its tragic climax and resolves it with a duet between Persephone and Eurydice. Archetypes used in the production have proved their timelessness by being applicable to numerous world events, recession and territorial divides being one of many. It’s hard to pick favorites out of this dazzling ensemble, the story has to be listened all the way through for a full effect.
You can read Hadestown’s history here.