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September 28, 2010

Review: Anais Mitchell Performs Hadestown at Madison Square Park

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010

Last weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go see Anais Mitchell and the Hadestown Orchestra perform for free in Madison Square Park.  It did not disappoint.

Get the details after the jump.

So Anais Mitchell created one of my favorite albums/musical works ever.  Period.  It is called Hadestown, and it is a folk opera retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in a Depression-era post-apocalyptic world.  SO nerdy in the classic sense (pun intended).  Several of the tracks are streaming on her website.  The opera mixes modern music, rag-time, and Greek mythological imagery so creatively that it begins to feel like a world unto itself.  At one point, as Hermes is traveling to Hadestown, he says “Either get to Hell or to Hadestown / Makes no difference anymore.”  Ideas blend and overlap and words have multiple meanings throughout the work.  Hermes, sung by Ben Knox Miller of the Low Anthem, has a crazy bluesy voice and is frequently accompanied by harmonica and tin-pan percussion, highlighting the Depression Era folk feel.

The album itself has some pretty incredible guest-singers: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame sings the part of Orpheus, and brings all the soul one would expect of the “father of songs.”  Ani DiFranco plays the part of Persephone, who is both Hades’ wife and the main act in the underworld cabaret bar, and brings a fantastic sultry element to all her songs.

Now, back to last weekend’s performance.  I found out that Anais Mitchell and the Hadestown Orchestra were performing only two hours beforehand on the website for Madison Square Park’s Studio Series of concerts, completely free.  What I did not realize until I got there was that they would be performing the opera in its entirety.  While it does become a bit difficult to follow when there aren’t different singers performing different parts (Anais stopped every few songs to give a rundown of the plot), it was really something to see Anais sing literally all the parts of the entire opera.  She also has a seemingly uncontainable bouncy energy that’s great fun to watch, as you can see in the video here.

All I have left to say is this: you should listen to Hadestown, because it is fantastic.  You should also listen to it before you see Anais perform it, because it makes it easier to follow the action of the work.  That said, she’s going on tour in Europe for a while, so the chance to see her stateside won’t come up anytime soon.  But if you hear about an upcoming performance, I suggest you do yourself a favor and buy a ticket.