Ani DiFranco. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Ani DiFranco. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Grammy Award Winner Ani DiFranco Relates to Persephone Now More Than Ever

“It’s an old tale from way back when, and we’re going to sing it again and again.”

So goes the beginning — and end — of Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s mythological folk opera currently playing at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre.

The lyric also applies to Grammy Award winner Ani DiFranco, who — after more than a decade — will step back into the high-heeled boots of Hadestown’s Persephone on February 9. The singer-songwriter’s tale with Hadestown began way back when with the 2010 concept album. DiFranco not only originated the role of Persephone for the track “Our Lady of the Underground,” she helped Mitchell shepherd Hadestown from an idea to a reality. When Mitchell approached her with the concept, DiFranco was immediately drawn into the story and Mitchell’s seemingly prophetic lyrics, and offered to help Mitchell put together the cast and release the studio recording through her label, Righteous Babe Records.

Ani DiFranco and Anais Mitchell. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Ani DiFranco and Anais Mitchell. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“Even from the first prototypes I heard, the songs were undeniable. [Mitchell’s] spin on these myths is timeless. You enter this story that’s old, but you don’t realize it because she brought modernity to Greek mythology through folk songs,” says DiFranco. “It’s prophetic, like how she wrote ‘Why We Build the Wall’ before Trump was elected. Sometimes as a songwriter, you write something before it becomes a reality, and Anaïs tapped into that.”

The Tony Award–winning musical intertwines the two love stories of Eurydice and Orpheus and Persephone and Hades. Eurydice and Orpheus find themselves in the Underworld, ruled by Hades and his wife, Persephone. There are plenty of juxtapositions between the two couples — gods and mortals, a new love and a long-established marriage — which allows for audience members to identify with one or multiple characters at any given life stage. And for DiFranco, she is ready to sing this tale again, but this time from a different perspective.

“I’ve spent a lot of my life in Eurydice’s and Orpheus’s shoes, but I’m truly a Persephone now,” said DiFranco. “I’m not the wide-eyed girl scraping by anymore. I’m an established woman with bounty that I’m able to share.”

Just as Persephone offers abundance to the world by way of summer’s warm sunshine, ripened fruit, blooming flowers, and “wine enough to share,” DiFranco has prioritized using her resources to offer abundance by way of supporting young artists through her Righteous Babe Records. With that perspective and life experience she has cultivated over the years, DiFranco is eager to explore her newfound relationship to Persephone in the rehearsal room.

“I relate to [Persephone] deeper than I ever have. I’ve been married for 20 years, and I super-relate to the struggle to reconnect and find each other again. I relate to being a woman who is jaded, disillusioned, broken, self-medicating, lost, incredibly ready to rebirth, and wants so badly to reconnect with life force and her own sense of joy, compassion, and nurturement of others.”

From her career as a singer-songwriter, DiFranco is no stranger to emoting vulnerability through music. Often writing songs through an autobiographical lens, she has discussed a wide array of her experiences, like her sexuality in “In or Out,” and her abortions in “Lost Woman Song.” In writing about her own experiences and observations about the world around her, DiFranco’s lyrics reflect her real-life activism, addressing political issues like reproductive rights, racism, voting, and misinformation. Though she has the wisdom and worldliness that spiritually aligns her with the Lady of the Underground, DiFranco is in somewhat of a rebirth herself. Performing in Hadestown will mark DiFranco’s Broadway debut, proving that she still has moments of tapping into her inner-Eurydice.

“Who would think 53 years old could be a new beginning?” she says. “It’s such a gift to change it up after 30 years. I’m so excited to learn from those around me during this bold, new challenge. I want to rise to this whole new occasion and do it justice, and honor Anaïs’s material.”

Learn More About Hadestown