Touted as a "folk opera"
is a musical and (more famously
) a Concept Album
written and produced by Anais Mitchell. It's a retelling of the Orpheus myth
set in a post-apocalyptic world that mimics The Great Depression
in the United States. Originally performed as a small-scale stage musical in Vermont, Mitchell extensively revised the work for the 2010 recording, which received critical acclaim. The album version has since been performed live at various locations, including New York and Virginia.Hadestown
opens above-ground, with Eurydice
worrying about how her lover Orpheus
will provide for her in this poverty-stricken post-apocalyptic world. They arrive at an old train depot, where everyone’s
talking about Hadestown
, a walled city under the ground. Hades
, the enigmatic king of Hadestown, comes calling for Eurydice when Orpheus is gone and seduces her to the wealth and security of his underworld. With directions from Hermes
, Orpheus follows Eurydice underground.
Meanwhile, in Hadestown, Hades indoctrinates his worker-citizens, but when he turns his back, his wife Persephone
subverts his efforts by plying her contraband from the outside world in a hidden speakeasy. She takes an interest in the newly arrived Orpheus. Eurydice, unaware that her lover is near, laments her decision to follow Hades. Orpheus moves toward her, but is intercepted by the Fates, who tell him struggling is pointless. Orpheus challenges the Fates, and shortly thereafter Hades discovers both Orpheus and the speakeasy.
In the royal bedroom, Persephone
appeals to her husband on Orpheus’s behalf. Orpheus, too, appeals to Hades
, and his singing starts a riot in Hadestown. Desperate, Hades comes up with a plan: Orpheus can have Eurydice back if he can walk out of the underworld ahead of her without turning around to make sure she’s there. Orpheus and Eurydice begin their ascent, but when Orpheus reaches the surface, he immediately turns around. Since Eurydice is still in the underworld, she becomes permanently trapped there, and Orpheus is left to Walk the Earth
The album stars Mitchell as Eurydice, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver
) as Orpheus, Ani DiFranco
as Persephone, Greg Brown as Hades, Ben Knox Miller (of The Low Anthem) as Hermes, and the Haden Triplets as the Fates.
This opera provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The album is a revision/adaptation of a small-scale stage musical (also by Anais Mitchell) that had two runs in Vermont.
- All There in the Manual: To fully understand the setting and plot, you need to read the history and libretto on the official website.
- Alternate Character Interpretation: Hadestown encourages the listener to question whether the characters are innocent or at fault for what happens to them, especially in the case of Eurydice.
- Bad Samaritan: Hades.
- Basso Profundo: Greg Brown as Hades. His voice has been described as "subterranean."
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Eurydice wanted to "lie down forever."
- Big Bad: Hades.
- Break the Cutie: What poverty and starvation, plus Hades, does to Eurydice.
- Broken Bird: Persephone.
- BSOD Song: "Flowers (Eurydice's Song)" for Eurydice. "If It's True" and "Doubt Comes In" for Orpheus. "His Kiss, The Riot" for Hades.
- Cabin Fever: In "Our Lady of the Underground."
Persephone: Six feet under getting under your skin/Cabin fever is a-setting in
- Call-and-Response Song: "Why We Build The Wall."
- Counterpoint Duet: "How Long."
- Crapsack World
- Crowd Song: "Why We Build The Wall."
- Darkest Hour: "Doubt Comes In."
- Deal with the Devil: Orpheus makes one with Hades, as in the original myth.
- Destructive Romance: Hades and Persephone, touched upon in "How Long."
- Downer Ending
- Drone of Dread: At the end of "Doubt Comes In," there is a painfully long note when Orpheus looks back at Eurydice too early, breaking his Deal with the Devil.
- Empire with a Dark Secret: Hades' wall isn't keeping out any enemy...
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones
- Everybody Hates Hades
- Evil Sounds Deep: Oh, yes.
- Final Love Duet: "Doubt Comes In."
- Foregone Conclusion: Assuming you're at all familiar with Greek mythology, you can pretty much guess how this one ends.
- Greek Mythology
- Grief Song: Inverted with "I Raise My Cup to Him," as Persephone and Eurydice sing a "reverse elegy" for Orpheus, who escaped Hadestown but now must Walk the Earth alone.
- Guttural Growler: Greg Brown as Hades.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack/Playing the Heart Strings: "Doubt Comes In."
- I Will Find You: Orpheus to Eurydice in "Wait For Me."
- The Ingenue: Eurydice.
- Let's Duet: Many of the songs — "Wedding Day," "Hey Little Songbird," "Wait For Me," "How Long," "Doubt Comes In," and "I Raise My Cup To Him."
- Love at First Sight: "Epic (Part Two)": Hades fell in love with Persephone the moment he saw her in Demeter's garden.
- Manipulative Bastard: Hades.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Way Down Hadestown," through and through.
- Melismatic Vocals: Anais Mitchell as Eurydice, particularly in "Flowers (Eurydice's Song)."
- Minimalist Cast: There's Eurydice, Orpheus, Persephone, Hades, Hermes, and the Fates.
- Mood Dissonance: "When The Chips Are Down" is a fatalistic but very jaunty and catchy song.
- Mr. Exposition: Hermes's main function.
- Not So Different: In a heroic example, Orpheus to Hades in "Epic (Part Two)."
- Hades, about Orpheus, from "His Kiss, The Riot," though he is recognizing the similarity to Orpheus in himself rather than persuading Orpheus of their similarities.
Nothing makes a man so bold/As a woman's smile and a hand to hold/But all alone his blood runs thin/And doubt comes— [Hesitant Dramatic Pause
] doubt comes in.
- Orphean Rescue
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Justin Vernon as Orpheus (see Voice of the Legion).
- Shame If Something Happened: "Hey Little Songbird."
Hades: Always a pity for one so pretty and young/When poverty comes to clip your wings/And knock the wind right out of your lungs/Hey, nobody sings on empty.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Persephone.
- The Song Before The Storm: "His Kiss, The Riot".
- Soprano and Gravel: Eurydice and Hades in "Hey Little Songbird."
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Orpheus and Eurydice.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Persephone in "How Long," about both Orpheus and Hades.
- Tenor Boy: Orpheus.
- Villain Love Song: "Hey Little Songbird," in which Hades seduces Eurydice.
- Villainous Lament: "How Long," in which a surprisingly vulnerable Hades shows bitter regret not for his villainous deeds, but for the dysfunctional nature of his marriage. What's tragic is that both Hades and Persephone seem to truly love each other even as that damaged love pains and tortures them.
- Voice of the Legion: Orpheus, to indicate his divine musical talent.
- Wedding Day: "Wedding Song," natch.
- What You Are in the Dark: In "Hey Little Songbird," Hades tempts Eurydice. The Fates also use this in "When The Chips Are Down."
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Eurydice and Orpheus both have elements of this at the start. "Epic, Part Two" and "How Long?" imply that Persephone used to be this, too.
- Women Are Wiser: Eurydice in "Wedding Song," voicing her concerns for Orpheus's monetary situation. Subverted thereafter, as Eurydice's concerns and her overall innocence lead to her seduction and subsequent imprisonment by Hades.
- Wretched Hive: Hadestown.
Hermes: Either get to hell or to Hadestown/Ain't no difference any more!