Listening to Hadestown: “We build the wall to keep us free”

Anaïs Mitchell’s album Hadestown, a folk opera retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, has been rattling around in my head; it’s some of the most exquisite, haunting, ominous, elegiac, richly lyrical music I’ve heard in some time. Mitchell sings Eurydice opposite Justin Vernon’s Orpheus, and I think the decision to layer his voice into lush, yearning harmonies absolutely works for the poet that Pindar called “Father of Songs.”

“Why We Build the Wall,” one of my favorite tracks, is stark, ironic, Orwellian (and thus unnervingly relevant), perfect. Hades engages in a call-and-response with his subjects, as they build the wall to keep out “the enemy” (insert the immigration debate and the “war on terror” here). Mitchell performs it live:

Go here to listen to the album version, with Greg Brown rumbling magnificently as Hades (and an additional song, “Our Lady of the Underground,” with Ani DiFranco as Persephone); and here for an NPR interview with more song excerpts.

Hadestown is dark and beautiful and won’t be leaving my head anytime soon.


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