USA, 2010, contemporary folk / chamber folk
Anaïs Mitchell – Hadestown:
This one requires a walkthrough.
To bring the listener up to speed: Orpheus is a penniless artist living in the city. Eurydice is the girl he wants to marry, but there’s no work, and she’s afraid how they’ll live. There’s work in Hadestown, and that promise has lured a lot of people into Hades’ trap.
01. Wedding Song
Orpheus and Eurydice have a conversation about how they’re going to live. With every objection Eurydice brings up, Orpheus confidently answers with the wit of a poet.
E: “Who’s going to buy the weddings bands?”
O: “When I sing, the rivers will break their banks and lay their gold at my feet.”
E: “Who’s going to lay the wedding table?”
O: “When I sing, all the trees will bend their branches down for me to lay their fruit around my feet.”
E: “Who’s going make the wedding bed?”
O: “When I sing, the birds all sing along, and they’ll fly down to me and lay their feathers at my feet.”
02. Epic (Part I)
Orpheus has heard of Hades, and he detects Eurydice’s desire to go get a piece of his wealth. But Orpheus tells her what it’s really like in Hadestown: dirt, sweat, back-breaking toil. Hades is “a king of bricks”, living in a land built by hands not his own. Orpheus is wise to Hades’ game, and he’s the only one not fooled or tempted.
03. Way Down Hadestown
Eurydice doesn’t listen, though. She seeks out Mercury, a harmonica-playing, blues-singing conductor who operates a night train straight to Hadestown. He welcomes Eurydice aboard, but there’s another passenger: Persephone. Hades is calling his wife home for the winter. Eurydice sits back amazed at everyone with their pockets full of gold. Orpheus makes one last plea, calling Hadestown a graveyard. His wife doesn’t listen, and she leaves on that one-way train while Orpheus is at work.
04. Songbird Intro
Eurydice meets Hades. A haunting violin plays.
05. Hey, Little Songbird
Hades entices Eurydice with an offer her empty belly cannot refuse: food, shelter…security. This underworld king guesses she’s married to some poor minstrel, and he warns her against idealism. Love can’t feed you or keep you warm. “Why not fly south for the winter?”
06. Gone, I’m Gone
Eurydice loves Orpheus with her heart, but her empty stomach cannot be ignored. She accepts Hades’ offer.
07. When the Chips Are Down
What would you have done in Eurydice’s situation? Love is unconquerable! Love is all you need! That’s what you might say, right? Well, that’s easy to say when you’re well fed. It’s easy to have principles when your belly is full. But when the chips are down, what would you really do?
08. Wait For Me
Orpheus returns from touring or a gig or whatever he’s been doing to try to scrape a living together and finds Eurydice gone. He finds a guide who’s willing to show Orpheus a secret way into Hadestown… not the train, but by his own two feet. “There ain’t no compass, there ain’t no map.” Undaunted, Orpheus follows some old telephone line. He climbs the razor-wire and cinder-block walls. He’s hungry, too, just like everyone else, but he goes after Eurydice anyway, risking all. All for love. “Wait for me,” he cries to his absent wife.
09. Why We Build the Wall
Why do they build the wall in Hadestown? To keep themselves free.
How does the wall keep them free? It keeps out the Enemy.
Who do they call the Enemy? Poverty.
Others outside the wall want what they’ve got…
What’ve they got that others want? They’ve got a wall to work upon. They have work, and others have none.
10. Our Lady of the Underground
They may have food in their bellies in Hadestown, but it’s a dreary state of affairs. Because there’s none of the old things the people used to love. No moonlight, no smell of flowers, no warm sunshine on your face, no music, no autumn leaves, no wind or rain. “When’s the last time you saw the sky?” No worries. Persephone runs a bootleg operation. She can get whatever you miss from your old life. She’s the Lady of the Underground, the Lady of Ways and Means.
11. Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)
Eurydice walks away from that night in Persephone’s tavern, where weeping workers were spending their hard-earned wages on brief glances into the simple pleasures of their old lives, and she realizes what she’s done. She’s signed her soul away. She remembers flowers, fields of flowers. And she remembers… someone. Someone by her side. He turned his face to hers, but she turned and walked away. Whoever that stranger is, she wants to see him again. She sings alone, begging him to come find her in the shadowy mess she’s made of her life.
12. Nothing Changes
The Fates tell Orpheus he cannot win. He cannot change what Eurydice has done. Her fate is sealed. No one escapes Hades’ grasp.
13. If It’s True
Orpheus ignores them. He doesn’t care. He’s going for Eurydice anyway. If she’s gone for good, so is his heart. He might as well die. His voice and hands would be worthless. Music would be meaningless to him. “The ones who tell the lies are the solemnest to swear. And the ones who load the dice always say the toss is fair.” He refuses to play a fixed game.
14. Papers (Hades Finds Out)
This is an instrumental, but it captures the hubbub in Hadestown at the arrival of the indefatigable minstrel. Having taken the secret way down, he did not have to pass through death to arrive.
15. How Long?
Hades’ and Persephone’s pillow talk consists of the only topic in Hadestown: Orpheus. Persephone tells of the minstrel’s song, of his passion, and of his desire to reclaim Eurydice. But Hades remains pitiless. “Nothing comes of wishing on stars.”
16. Epic (Part II)
We hear Orpheus sing to the miserable denizens of Hadestown. And he sings specifically of their king, Hades. He pulls back the curtain and reveals the man behind the throne. Hades is king, aye, but Orpheus paints a picture of the moment Hades first saw Persephone. In that moment, he was thunderstruck by love and was nothing more than a man. And that’s what Orpheus is: a man. A man in love. Just as Hades once was when he saw Persephone with “the sun on her shoulders, the wind in her hair”. The pitiless king had tasted nectar that day, and all Orpheus wants is what’s his.
17. Lover’s Desire
Another instrumental evoking the turmoil Orpheus’ music is causing in Hadestown. People are flocking to him, for in him they see hope, beauty, love, freedom—all the things mere gold can’t buy.
18. His Kiss, The Riot
Hades has to get rid of Orpheus before he ruins everything the king has built (upon the backs of others). So he concocts a plan: he’ll give Eurydice back, but only on one condition. Orpheus cannot look back to make sure Eurydice is following him. He must trust that she is there with him, though he is not be allowed to confirm that she is indeed with him. Only when they are out of the Underworld can he turn to look at her. Hades is hoping Orpheus will turn back. After all, “she’s out of sight, and he’s out of his mind”.
19. Doubt Comes In
The long march back to the sunlit realms begins, but Orpheus feels as if he is going alone. Where is Eurydice? Is she there? Is she really behind him? She left him once. Could it be that she would be faithful and strong this time, when she failed and abandoned him before? Eurydice calls to him, but as a shade, her voice does not carry to Orpheus’ ears. She begs him to be strong and carry on, but he cannot hear her. At last, doubt gets the best of him, and he turns back. And Eurydice is forever lost.
20. I Raise My Cup to Him
The workers, Eurydice included, are all sitting in Persephone’s tavern, drinking to the memory of Orpheus. They toast him and wish him well. I find this track to be poignant, for in the original myth, Orpheus, after losing Eurydice, travels the world singing his sad songs until one day he is torn apart by Dionysus’ maenads. What this means is: in his sorrow, he drank himself to death.
Orpheus: Justin Vernon
Eurydice: Anaïs Mitchell
Hades: Greg Brown
Persephone: Ani DiFranco
Mercury: Ben Knox Miller
The Fates: Tanya, Petra, and Rachel Haden