When singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell released her folk opera Hadestown in 2009, the vivid reimagining of the Greek myth of the doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice clearly seemed inspired by the nation’s economic crisis.
Set in a Depression-era company town painted in the stark colors of a hard-boiled Dashiel Hammett dystopia, the album brought together an immoderately talented multi-generational cast of singers and instrumentalists, including Greg Brown (Hades), Ani DiFranco (Persephone), Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (Orpheus), and Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden (the Fates). But Mitchell, who sang the role of Eurydice, says that the project was born long before the bursting housing bubble almost toppled the global financial system.
In fact, it was George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 and Mitchell’s wavering faith in the power of writing politically topical songs that set her on a path toward Greek mythology. The underworld, it turned out, was an ideal forum for unleashing her vision of a curdling American dream.
“Hades was a way to write about those things in an archetypical way, rather than tied to specific events,” says Mitchell, 34. “When the album was coming out and the recession hit, themes of poverty and desperation really came to the fore. Now we’re on the road to recovery and other parts of the music and imagery feel a little more relevant. It’s an ancient myth that continues to resonate in so many ways.”
Mitchell presents a newly expanded version of the song cycle at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage on June 28, working with album’s two key collaborators: arranger Michael Chorney, who plays acoustic guitar and prepared guitar, and bassist Todd Sickafoose, who produced the album and her acclaimed 2012 followup Young Man In America (Wilderland Records). They’re joined by a stellar ensemble including violinist/vocalist Jenny Scheinman, cellist/vocalist Markia Hughes, trumpeter/vocalist Darren Johnston, accordionist Rob Reich, and drummer Eric Garland.