Operatic Retelling of James Joyce Short Story The Dead- Headstuff.org

Interview| Operatic Retelling of ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce

The Feast of the Epiphany has arrived. Sisters, Kate and Julie Morkan are throwing their annual Christmas Party. ‘The Dead’, a short story written by James Joyce in Dubliners over 100 years ago, will be retold this year at the Project Arts Centre. This production, however, has an innovative twist: it has reconstructed the classic story as an opera. This musical performance is viewed through the eyes of our protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, nephew to these eccentric middle aged women, and their reluctant guest of honour.

Playwright Tom Swift, explains the strong musical references pervading the original short story and why he chose to use opera in this adaptation of arguably Irish literature’s most famous short story: ‘ Opera gives you a chance to express that musicality on stage and also to be playful with it – there’s a huge amount of humour in the story which we’ve also brought to life.

Swift met composer Ellen Cranitch when they were both living as artists-in-residence at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris. Swift, who has loved ‘The Dead’ since reading it as a teenager, explains how the ensemble came together: ‘I was really impressed by Ellen’s version of Phaedra, which she performed with Rough Magic at the centre, and we subsequently created a short opera piece based on Moore’s Melodies.

‘When the story went out of copyright recently, myself and Ellen … discussed an opera version. Returning to the story, it seemed to make perfect sense. The story is full of musical references from opera to traditional songs’.


We did a work-in-progress performance of ‘The Dead’ last year and we were blown away by the positive response to the piece.’  Swift, an award winning playwright, and acclaimed composer Cranitch, enlisted the help of Jo Mangan, who went on to become the director of the play. She also shared her perspective: ‘I do think it allows us to see it through a different lens other than that of the original story and indeed the famous film. It’s a very different approach, so it should allow the audience a new and fresh access’.

The design by Niamh Lunney will hopefully complement the dramatic nature of the play, performed by Clare Barrett, Lisa Lambe, Ruth McGill and Rory Musgrave.

Following its run at the Project Arts Centre this December, ‘The Dead’ will tour in the US and Canada for Culture Ireland’s 2016 International Centenary Programme. There is also the possibility of a tour around Ireland in the New Year. You can listen to The Lass of Aughrim, a song composed for the play.