Anais Mitchell: A Greek Tragedy In Song

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Anais Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown enlists the services of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon as Orpheus. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Anais Mitchell

Anais Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown enlists the services of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon as Orpheus.

courtesy of the artist

Friday's Pick

  • Artist: Anais Mitchell with Justin Vernon
  • Song: "If It's True"
  • CD: Hadestown
  • Genre: Folk

At least on paper, Anais Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown is pretty forbidding: It tells the story of the musically inclined Greek hero Orpheus, who travels through the underworld to reclaim his lost love, Eurydice. But Mitchell, a singer-songwriter who adapted the ancient story with Michael Chorney and Ben Matchstick, knows how to make her source material relatable and contemporary, whether she's expressing universal emotions or choosing a stable of relevant collaborators. The deep-voiced folksinger Greg Brown takes a comically menacing turn as Hades, for example, while Ani DiFranco, The Low Anthem's Ben Knox Miller and others make high-profile appearances.

Singing in a deep voice of his own — a change of pace from the falsetto he employs as leader of Bon Iver — Justin Vernon plays Hadestown's legendary protagonist, whose tone of resignation, denial and doubt reflects a complicated swirl of emotions in "If It's True." Oozing self-pity amid sweeping strings, Vernon/Orpheus dramatically mourns a loss of which he's just heard. But he soon finds himself doubting the messengers: "The ones who tell the lies are the solemnest to swear / and the ones who load the dice always say the toss is fair." His is a grim view of humanity, but at least it's in the service of a twisted sort of hope: Vernon's best-case scenario is that he's been duped by cruel, vicious liars.

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Anais Mitchell
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