In November, Assistant Professor of Music Theory Rachel Short, Ph.D., presented at the virtual conference of the Society for Music Theory (SMT). She was part of the session “Theorists Talk about Sex . . . in Musicals” (co-chaired by Michael Buchler and Rachel Lumsden) and her presentation was titled “Desire in Hell: A Love Song That Transforms Gods and Men.” Short also co-chaired a meeting of SMT’s Dance and Movement Interest Group.
Anaïs Mitchell’s 2019 musical “Hadestown” is a complex intertwining of two mythic couples. The Greek god Hades is driven by love for his dissatisfied wife, Persephone. Their angst-ridden tale combines with the burgeoning romance of Eurydice and her lover Orpheus, a songwriter. Musicals with double couples commonly portray two different types of romance through different musical styles. In “Hadestown’”s portrayal of desire, music weaves the two couples together, turning the convention on its head. This paper traces varied uses of the shared LaLa=Love theme to explore how music develops the central ideas of desire and love as it transforms the stories of both mortals and gods.
The LaLa=Love theme is interwoven into eight different musical numbers, occurring in both duple and triple meter. It is set in relief by the surrounding folk-recitative narrative, sung in counterpoint against the worker’s mechanistic chant, and — at a pivotal point in the drama — is sung by Orpheus to Hades, who eventually joins in. The theme is transformative for both couples, changing their paths and connecting their desires musically and dramatically. While the theme is mostly performed by Orpheus, he frequently sings it about Hades’ passion. In a departure from many two-couple shows, all does not end well for the young lovers, but the older couple’s love is given renewed hope. Tracing the LaLa=Love theme’s introduction, metric changes, additions, and narrative arc helps us see how the music is changed by, and changes, both gods and men.