The word games that Eurydice plays with her father in Sarah Ruhl’s play were inspired by similar word games that Ruhl played with her own father when she was young.
Ruhl’s wrote her first play when she was in the fourth grade. It was a courtroom drama about a land dispute between an island and an isthmus.
The instructions that the father speaks at the end of the opera will lead you to a real place: The one-time home of Sarah Ruhl’s paternal grandparents.
When Sarah Ruhl was a child, one of her favorite myths was the story of Demeter and Persephone. In this story, Hades kidnaps Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter, to be his wife. Demeter is so distraught by the loss of her daughter that she refuses to produce any crops. When the gods become desperate, Zeus summons Demeter to Olympus so they might plead with her, but none of them can lessen her grief or break her resolve. So Hermes travels to the Underworld to beg Hades to return Persephone to her mother. The god of the Underworld agrees—but at her departure, secretly gives Persephone some pomegranate seeds to eat. After Persephone is reunited with her mother, it is revealed that, because she had eaten the seeds, she must spend part of every year with Hades in the Underworld. To this day, we can tell when Persephone is with Hades, since the earth becomes barren, and no crops grow.
Sarah Ruhl, Matthew Aucoin, and Mary Zimmerman—the three main creative talents behind Eurydice—are all recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship (sometimes called the “Genius Grant”). Upon the announcement of the fellowships, each recipient’s work is described in a few short words by the Foundation. Ruhl’s work was recognized for “creating vivid and adventurous theatrical works that poignantly juxtapose the mundane aspects of daily life with mythic themes of love and war.” Aucoin’s work was recognized for “expanding the potential of vocal and orchestral music to convey emotional, dramatic, and literary meaning.” And Zimmerman’s style was lauded for its “rigorous dedication to clarity” and “vision that distills conflicting themes and sprawling stories into stimulating theater.”
Eurydice is not Matthew Aucoin’s first interpretation of the Orpheus myth. The year before he embarked on this operatic project with Sarah Ruhl, he composed The Orphic Moment, a “dramatic cantata” based on the “final few milliseconds before Orpheus’s backward look.”