02 December, 2016

Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (Music CD)

Sing, o muse, of a dead woman and the penniless musician who loved her, who followed her to the underworld to win her back from the king of the dead. 

Sing of the underworld king, hard and cold and susceptible to beauty; sing of his stolen queen, subversive and sly. 

Sing of the bargain they struck, the living and the dead, sing us this: the tale of Eurydice, who would follow Orpheus back up the underworld road to life as long as he didn’t turn around.

Sing of Orpheus, who turned around.

It’s an old Greek myth, this tragedy about a man who tried to conquer death for the sake of love and failed at the last minute. His near miss is an emotional gut-punch that plays on our own fears of loss and failure, which might explain why variations of the myth surface so often in operas, films, graphic novels, children's stories and poetry- and in this particularly unique resurrection, as a concept album by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell.

Billed as a ‘folk opera’, Hadestown is a song cycle layered with banjos, violins and rich harmonies by a cast of indie folk-rock demigods (notable contributors include Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). It’s a gorgeous thing, poetic and political, simultaneously crooning and complex. The narrative is set in a world vaguely reminiscent of the Great Depression, where the clash between Orpheus’ sunny optimism and Eurydice’s hunger sends her, us and Orpheus after her into the walled underground mine of Hadestown, where Hades and his wife Persephone have their own problems. Quietly haunting, Hadestown take us on a journey into the underworld and nearly all the way back before leaving us to its inevitable, bittersweet ending.

Title: Hadestown
Artists: Anaïs Mitchell, Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon, Ben Knox Miller, The Haden Triplets and others.

Reviewed by Valerie T, Māngere Town Centre Library.

Valerie T 
loves Shakespeare, fairytales, Trinitarian theology, twentieth century poetry and picture books about bears.

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