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Traditional opera, with its bewigged baritones belting out muscular tunes in foreign languages, has trouble maintaining audiences. But artists from other walks of life have been borrowing the moniker for some time—and with remarkable success. Washington’s performance scene has played host to dance operas, rock operas, and even a puppet opera; apparently, the word conveys a sense of complexity and gravitas that doesn’t come across in plainer words. One recent variation is Hadestown, a “folk opera” with music by the singer Anaïs Mitchell that’s based on the Orpheus myth and set in a dystopian great depression. The piece was first developed in 2006 by Mitchell and a ragtag bunch of creatives, who performed the piece around New England; after several tours and drafts, Mitchell went into the studio with a host of bold-faced names from the realm of indie folk—Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon, The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller—to record an album version, which came out last year. For tonight’s date, she’s even cast some local musicians, like These United States’ Jesse Elliott. Creators of traditional opera wouldn’t be wrong trying to co-opt some of Hadestown’s neo-dustbowl cool.
MITCHELL PERFORMS HADESTOWN AT 8 P.M. AT SIXTH & I HISTORIC SYNAGOGUE DOWNSTAIRS, 600 I ST. NW. $15-$18. (202)