Musical myths coming to Beaver Creek
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – This time, Underground Sound is going underground, literally. Anais Mitchell, along with a bevy of Colorado folk artists, will perform her underworld folk opera “Hadestown” at the Vilar this Sunday. “Hadestown” is a retelling of the Orpheus myth using Mitchell’s special blend of folk, blues, and jazz.
For those not familiar with the myth, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The story begins with Orpheus, a musician, and his wife, Eurydice. Eurydice ventures into the underworld and is lured by Hades to join him in Hadestown. Orpheus goes to Hadestown to find his dead wife, meeting Hermes and Persephone along the way. Hades tells Orpheus he can return home with Eurydice if he walks out of Hadestown a few steps in front of her without looking back. Like many Greek tales, “Hadestown” ends in tragedy.
Mitchell is named after writer Anais Nin. With a novelist and an English professor as her parents, it’s no surprise that Mitchell’s songs often tell stories. In 2006, Mitchell began crafting “Hadestown” song by song.
“There wasn’t any grand plan,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t like I said, ‘I think I’ll write an opera’. I’m not a big mythology person, but when I was a kid I had a children’s book of mythology. The Orpheus myth struck me at a young age.”
Mitchell initially staged “Hadestown” in her home state of Vermont. In 2010, she recorded the “Hadestown” album with fellow folk artists Greg Brown, Ani Difranco, Justin Vernon, and Ben Knox Miller.
Set in what Mitchell calls a “post-apocalyptic future and Depression-era past,” the folk opera’s themes are timely and reflect our current economic climate.
“Recently, when I think about it, it’s really this battle between doubt and faith,” Mitchell said. “The very first song is ‘Wedding Song.’ Eurydice is asking Orpheus how he will provide for her. He says, ‘Don’t worry, the world will provide for us.’ Whether you feel doubt or security, these are both true realities. … With what’s going on now with the stock market and on Wall Street, if people believe in it, it goes well. Then doubt comes in and topples things, it’s like a house of cards.”
In Mitchell’s version of the myth, Hadestown is a land of wealth and riches. In the original story, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. In “Hadestown,” she’s enticed by the underworld because of the jobs and opportunities there. The song “Why We Build the Wall” in the folk opera explores the divide between rich and poor.
“Where there’s wealth, there’s always going to be poverty.” Mitchell said. “There’s always going to be a wall between those two things.”
“Hadestown” isn’t told through words alone. The music that accompanies the songs evokes a 1930s speakeasy atmosphere. Trumpets and trombones bring to life the seedy scene of Hadestown. Although the story of the folk opera is quite dark, there are plenty of upbeat numbers that speak (or sing) to the underworld’s seductive nature.
Mitchell collaborated with fellow musician Michael Chorney and theater director Ben Matchstick to create the initial “Hadestown” performances. Chorney will be the bandleader for the “Hadestown” orchestra at Sunday’s show. Mitchell said the show will be in the style of a “radio novella.” Joining Mitchell will be Colorado musicians Reed Foehl, KC Groves, Jefferson Hamer and Front Range band Paper Bird.
“I’m so excited to hang out with those guys in Colorado and do the ritual again, I think there’s some kind of magic in it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell has performed “Hadestown” around the U.S., often featuring musicians from the state she’s playing in. The folk opera has gone through many revisions since 2006, and Mitchell said it’s been “cool how it evolved.” Mitchell likes that the audience reaction to “Hadestown”is also ever-changing.
“It’s not a Hollywood story. It sets you up for this great triumph, but at the end you get this failure. It’s a myth that raises more questions than provides answers,” Mitchell said.
Rosanna Turner is an intern with the Vail Daily. Email comments about this story to email@example.com