Elsewhere is a new large-scale opera/music-theatre work based on the story of the 1919 Monaghan Asylum Soviet. Co-commissioned by Cie Miroirs Étendus, the Opéra de Rouen-Normandie and Creative Ireland, the opera will also be co-produced in Ireland by my own new music-theatre company, Straymaker, with the support of the Arts Council and the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.
The Monaghan Asylum Soviet of 1919 was the first of its kind to occur outside of the newly- established Soviet Union, taking place in a small Irish town only a few miles from what was soon to become the problematic border between northern and southern Ireland. Having held unsuccessful strikes for more human working conditions and gender equality in the workplace, and under threat from the Royal Irish Constabulary, the staff of the Monaghan Lunatic Asylum barricaded the gates, raised the Red Flag and declared themselves an independent soviet commune.”Governed” by revolutionary leader Peadar O’Donnell, the asylum continued to prioritise the care of its residents. Divisions between religions, political factions and the diverse ‘realities’ of the sane and insane were of little consequence; strikers and patients wore the same uniforms, all playing an active role in the working of the commune. The “lock-in” was considered a great success at the time, the gates only being opened when all demands had been met.
Dealing with themes of utopia, fantasy and madness, Elsewhere explores the other worlds that exist at the frontiers of imagination. The events that inspire this new work took place at a time much like our present, when new lines – both idealogical and geographical – were being drawn on the political landscape in Ireland and further afield. In the midst of bitter sectarianism and divisive identity politics, the commune presented an entirely ‘other’ vision of society, growing in the most irregular place, amidst the outcast and the insane. Our story, told from the perspective of a patient, similarly weaves its way between the rational and irrational, the real and the imaginary, interrogating the lines that separate them. What does it mean to border, to be bordered, to transgress?
Concept/Composition: Michael Gallen
Libretto: Annemarie Ní Churreain, Dylan Coburn Gray, Michael Gallen
Director: Tom Creed
Producer: Straymaker (Irl) – dir. Michael Gallen, prod. Maura O’Keeffe
Co-producers (thus far): Miroirs Étendus (Fr), Opéra de Rouen Normandie (Fr)
Associate Partners/Funders (thus far): Arts Council Ireland, Monaghan Arts Office, Centre
Culturel Irlandais, Irish National Opera, Íontas Theatre.