In Review > North America

The Shining

ST. PAUL
Minnesota Opera
5/7/16

On the whole, Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell's The Shining delivered a whole slew of edge-of-your-seat moments.

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Director Eric Simonson’s production of Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell's The Shining at Minnesota Opera
© Ken Howard/Minnesota Opera 2016
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Brian Mulligan as Jack Torrance and David Walton as Delbert Grady
© Ken Howard/Minnesota Opera 2016
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Kelly Kaduce and Alejandro Vega, Wendy and Danny
© Ken Howard/Minnesota Opera 2016

THE EXCITEMENT WAS PALPABLE at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on May 7 as the audience sat waiting for the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s hotly anticipated new opera, The Shining. The story and its characters are virtually embedded in modern cultural consciousness, and the prospect of operatic adaptation was tantalizing. Pulitzer Prize-winner Moravec and his accomplished, prolific librettist Mark Campbell wisely chose to hew closely to Stephen King’s 1977 bestselling novel, and not to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant (but not particularly faithful) film adaptation, which King reportedly disliked. In the book, and thus in the opera, the backstories and relationships among the members of the Torrance family are much more fully fleshed out. Jack’s abusive father, for example, who doesn’t appear in the film, plays an important role in helping us understand the generationally recurring cycle of child abuse that precedes the family’s arrival at the Overlook Hotel.

Armed with this rich source material, Moravec proves to be a masterful musical dramatist. As the characters ricochet across an outsized spectrum of emotions, the orchestral fabric is a prime engine of the narrative, deftly shape-shifting from opulently romantic to subtly ominous to outright terrifying. The scary parts sound like a first-rate horror movie score, and I mean that as a compliment—the music is impressively creative, maximally effective, and it continues to outdo itself throughout the piece. In the lusher stretches, it recalls the likes of Erich Korngold and Franz Waxman from Hollywood’s golden age. Then at the top of Act II, when it’s clear that Jack has crossed the border into full-out crazy, the harmonic language moves into Wozzeck territory, with atonality signifying derangement and disintegration but lyrical expressiveness sustaining a context of high emotion. Moravec also provides some catchy period dance-band music for the ballroom scenes.  

The leading players are superbly cast. As Jack Torrance, Brian Mulligan does the seemingly impossible—he actually makes you forget Jack Nicholson. Possessed of an imposing build and a rugged, perfectly articulated baritone, Mulligan lets us see that Jack is fighting forces beyond his control. In that impassioned struggle, he is perfectly partnered by Kelly Kaduce’s strong, appealing Wendy. Both use their singing as an extension of their acting. When they fight, the screaming is thoroughly convincing as pure drama—it just happens to be on pitch. We also get that these two genuinely love each other, something that was never apparent with Nicholson and Shelly Duvall. Although much of the show is musicalized dialogue, recitative style, Moravec gives Kaduce a traditional aria (“I never stopped loving you”), with long arching phrases and a flowering melody. It’s a standout number, and Kaduce delivered it with affecting beauty.

The brave and gifted young Alejandro Vega performed the mostly spoken role of Danny. Only in the harrowing Act II scene when he faces down Mulligan’s Jack with the line “You are not my father!” does Moravec finally allow Danny to sing. Vega’s strength of delivery made it credible that his violent, frenzied father would literally fall to his knees, allowing Danny to escape. Dick Halloran, the cook who recognizes Danny’s ability to “shine,” is magnificently embodied by bass Arthur Woodley, who emerges as the conscience of the piece. In the movie, Scatman Crothers’s Halloran meets a particularly nasty end, but here (and in the book) he survives the Overlook, which means the immediately likable Woodley, evincing tremendous moral and vocal authority, gets to sing a reassuringly lyrical aria to Wendy and Danny in the epilogue. Baritone Mark Walters was powerful and frightening in his ghostly appearances as Jack’s alcoholic father, while tenor David Walton as Delbert Grady, the previous caretaker who murdered his wife and two daughters, was equally chilling in his casual charm and suavity.

Director Eric Simonson’s imaginative, kaleidoscopic production gives a sense of the Overlook’s threatening vastness. Through the effective integration of animated projections (by 59 Productions), sliding sets (by Erhard Rom), and cleverly deployed scrim effects, the hotel itself becomes the prime malevolent force in the proceedings. Costume designer Kärin Kopischke populates the stage with a rogue’s gallery of creepy revelers in the ballroom scenes, and Robert Wierzel’s haunted-house lighting is spot-on. The Minnesota Opera Orchestra, under the heroic leadership of Michael Christie, gave an exceptionally polished performance of the churning, continuously challenging score. On the whole, The Shining delivered a whole slew of edge-of-your-seat moments: watching Vega’s Danny step slowly toward the bathtub with the drawn curtain in the forbidden room 217 was as riveting as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater. What a wonderful thing to be able to say about a new American opera. —Joshua Rosenblum 



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