Persephone

A Musical Allegory for the Stage

Synopsis:

Act I - Summer.

It is in a time before human history. The people of the world live off of what the world provides them, the fruit from the trees, the animals of the forest, the water of the rivers, and the fish of the sea. They worship, ecstatically, the Gods and Goddesses who are the embodiment of the powers of the earth upon which they depend (1. “Sing, Goddess, In Me / The World is Kind to Us”).

Zeus, the King of the Gods, is planning a birthday party for Aphrodite, his adopted daughter. She has the affect of a perfectly petulant and spoiled teenager. She proposes to her ladies-in-waiting that they play a party game – taking two lonely people, the unlikeliest couple they can find, and making them fall in love with each other (2. “Nice”)

The scene now shifts to the household of Demeter, the goddess of growing things and the soil, who is Zeus’ former lover. Rather than on Olympus with the other Gods, she lives on the earth with her and Zeus’ daughter, Persephone. She sings of her love and devotion to her daughter, her astonishment at how fast she is growing, and her fears for their future as they dress, do their hair, makeup, etc. (3. “My Little Girl”) As the song progresses we watch Persephone grow from a child into a young woman before her mother’s eyes, and realize that they are preparing to attend Aphrodite’s Party, ordered by a royal decree delivered by Hermes, Zeus’ page and loyal assistant.

Among the humans, an old man dies, and our attention now goes Hades, the cheerless, efficient Lord of the Underworld. He sings of his job, shepherding the recently dead into their permanent accommodation (4. “The Souls of the Dead”). Hades is also directed to attend the party, despite his distaste for Olympus in general, and Zeus’ ever-shifting domestic drama specifically.

At the party, (5. “Aphrodite’s Party, pt. 1”) Hades and Persephone each distance themselves from the crowd, being insecure and awkward in courtly situations. Hades, prompted by Aphrodite’s henchwomen, notices Persephone, who is all the more beautiful for her awkward shyness. Aphrodite swoops in and casts her spell on Hades, who is now starting to be drunk on wine and possibility. She convinces him that he is capable of wooing a girl so much younger and more handsome than he, and plants the seed in his mind that she could be his wife (6. “Aphrodite’s Party, pt. 2 / The Art of Seduction”).

Hades returns to his throne in the underworld, and tries to resume his normal routine, but cannot. He tries drowning his thoughts of her in wine, but it only amplifies them. He declares to his assistants that he will have Persephone, no matter what (7. “Order”).

Thanatos, one of Hades assistants, approaches Persephone while she is picking flowers, and points out an enormous black narcissus, which fascinates her. Sedated by the narcotic scent of the flower she begins to daydream, thinking about leaving her home, bucking both her mother’s overpowering love in her life and her father’s hurtful absence (8. “Narcissus”) She drifts off to sleep. Hades appears, takes her into his arms, and carries her to his underground kingdom (9. “The Rape”).

Demeter, distraught, searches high and low for her missing daughter. Eventually she is forced to go to her estranged sister, Hecate, the Goddess of witchcraft. Cold, terrifying and unpopular, Hecate had taken to living alone on the moon, and from that vantage point was the only one who witnessed Persephone’s abduction. Meanwhile, Persephone is frantic. Hades, still to shy to actually speak to his prisoner/bride, positions her where she can see the endless procession of the dead while he works, then at night sneaks in to her room to stare at her while he thinks she is asleep. Mother and daughter sing to each other in parallel solitude (10. “From your Home in the Moon / Oh, Mother”).

Demeter, resigned to the fact that Persephone is being held by someone more powerful than herself, falls into a deep depression. She decides to give up her duties as guardian of green and growing things, and instead hide among the humans (11. “I Will Hide Myself”).

 

Intermission

Act II – Autumn.

Without Demeter’s care and attention, the world begins to get cooler, and the plants begin to shed their leaves. The humans are confused, and nervous, but not yet scared (12. “Autumn”).

Demeter, disguised as an old woman, sits alone in the forest, (13. “Alone”) where two young girls, out playing (14. “Pebbles”), discover her. They invite her to the house of their father, Celeus, Demeter’s priest.

Days pass and Demeter becomes a member of the household, helping with the housework and babysitting the children. One day, Demeter is left with the baby of the family, while the rest go to attend a ceremony. Celeus preaches the story of how the world was created, and how Love was the initial creative force of life (15.”The Dim Beginning”).

While Demeter is alone with the younger of the two girls, she sees an opportunity to replace her own daughter. She places her in the fire to burn away her mortality and thus make her a Goddess. They are interrupted by Meteneia, the baby’s mother, who screams and grabs her out of the fire. Demeter, enraged, reveals herself, and promises that the humans will suffer for taking away her second chance at motherhood (16. “My Lovely Child”).

Meanwhile, Persephone is still pining for her mother and her old life. Aphrodite, who is proving to be much more complex than she initially appeared, visits her secretly, and tells her that she is powerful, and has control over her own destiny (17. “The Future”).

Unsure of herself, now that she is no longer a prisoner, Persephone joins Hades at dinner. She begins to be charmed by his awkwardness and sincere affection. He offers her a pomegranate to eat, and she accepts. They kiss. (18. “This Fruit, This Seed”)

Demeter flees to the moon to join Hecate and learn her black magic (19. “From Your Home on the Moon (Reprise)”).

Act III – Winter, then Spring.

It is now winter and the world is dying. The plants have died, now the animals and the people are starving (20. “Winter”).

Barely able to keep themselves fed and clothed, the humans have stopped their sacrifices to the gods, which the gods depend upon to live. Suffering, the Gods go to Zeus and demand action.

Zeus travels to the moon and confronts Demeter. She responds that she will let the world die unless she gets her daughter back (21. “Demeter’s Demand”). Aphrodite then visits the moon and encourages Demeter to travel to Olympus.

On Olympus, Zeus drags Hades before a kangaroo court to make him account for his actions. Outside of the courtroom Demeter and Persephone meet. Persephone explains to her incredulous mother that as much as she misses her old life, she loves Hades, despite his imperfections, and wants to be with him. (22. “The Way He Can”).

Inside, things have degenerated into a shouting match between Zeus and Hades, each blaming the other for Persephone’s unhappiness (23. “Hades on Trial”). Persephone enters, and, finding even more new strength, brings the proceedings to an end. Hades expresses his love and begs for her to stay, and she explains that she can be both a wife and a mother, splitting each year between her mother’s house and her husband’s (24 “Don’t Run Away From Me Now”).

Demeter and Persephone work together to bring spring back to the world, and teach the humans how to grow their own food, so they will not starve through the winter each year. This new knowledge allows humanity to move beyond their dependence on the handouts of the fickle universe, and civilization begins (25. “From Now On”).

Thus, Persephone is herself the seed that descends into the ground and rises again, ready to blossom, and also the ground, that receives the seed and bears fruit. Thus do we feed ourselves, and have the wherewithal to take control of our environment; thus do we all move forward.

The End