Greek myths, folk opera and a post-apocalyptic USA


Anais Mitchell
CD, Righteous Babe Records

The “folk opera” Hadestown is an interpretation of the ancient Greek myth of the poet Opheus’ doomed quest to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld. It is set in a near-future post-apocalyptic US, beset by ecological and economic disaster.

Orpheus, representing all poets, believes in the healing power of nature, but his wife is seduced by the promises of the huckster Hades.

In Hadestown the workers toil endlessly building a wall along the River Styx. The most powerful song has Hades in call-and-response with the labourers. “Why do we build the wall?”, he intones. The workers chant back: “The enemy is poverty, and the wall keeps out the enemy, and we build the wall to keep us free.”

Hadestown is a fractured vision of today’s US, with its Mexican border wall to exclude Hispanics, or “Fortress Australia” with its refugee concentration camps.

The imaginative musical setting prevents this from being laboured. Anais Mitchell is clearly a master of many American folk genres. Even if you have never heard of her, you may be familiar with Ani Difranco, who appears on several tracks. Righteous Babe Records, Difranco’s company, has invested a lot of effort into beautifully packaging the CD.

This CD is a cultural weapon, a damning indictment of US society straight from the belly of the beast!