Stephen King crafts stories revealing that the scariest things that go bump in the night are not supernatural hauntings but the horrors we create ourselves. On Saturday, May 7, 2016, the Minnesota Opera premiered “The Shining,” based on the novel by Stephen King. Composed by Paul Moravec with libretto by Mark Campbell, “The Shining” opened to an enthusiastic, sold-out audience at St. Paul’s Ordway Music Theater. This production, ripe with gorgeous singing as well as fascinating scenery and projections, ultimately tells the story about the traumatic effects of abuse and tortured father/son relationships.
Both Brian Mulligan, as Jack Torrance, and Kelly Kaduce, as Wendy Torrance, displayed a full arsenal of vocal and acting skill, which they used to deliver outstanding performances. The English captions above the stage, while appreciated, were hardly needed due to Mulligan and Kaduce’s excellent diction. Early in the first act, Kaduce sings a poignant “I’ve never stopped loving you…” full of affection and round, complex vocal tone. Moments of sweetness, such as that, are testimonies to the overall cast chemistry. This connectivity on stage helps the audience care for the characters before they descend into the intensity and madness of the story. Moravec’s writing tends to change abruptly between sweetness and intensity that accentuates the overall uneasiness the audience is meant to feel.
While his character magnificently loses control to his demoniac tormentors, Mulligan’s baritone was secure and arresting to his final, blazing moments on stage. His commanding authority was particularly moving in the Act I Finale while he sang, “I am the husband, I am the father.” The emotional core of this production is Jack’s interaction with the other male figures of the story, namely Jack’s abusive father Mark Torrance, performed with chilling results by Mark Walters. David Walton, as Delbert Grady, brought a clarion tenor sound to the role of the intolerantly strict previous caretaker. Alex Ritchie (Horace Derwent), Benjamin Sieverding (A Ranger), and John Robert Lindsey (Lloyd), effectively rounded out the ghostly cadre urging Mulligan’s character on. Only bass Arthur Woodley, as Dick Hallorann, could provide the calming force and vocal gravitas to balance these other characters. His final aria, “These woeful days will be over,” during the Epilogue is a stunner – pulling at the heartstrings musically, textually, and visually.
The design of the scenery, animation/projection, lighting, and sound that went into this production is clearly tremendous. From the opening of the opera, the projections evoke a vintage postcard drawing the audience into the otherworldly magic of The Overlook Hotel. There are many instances of clever usage of performing behind a downstage scrim featuring, at times, verdant landscapes, and at others, fiery explosions and smoke. However, as with many premieres, there were moments of set movement that seemed out of place and shadow projections that could have been more effective. It would also be wise to tighten up certain party scenes to make sure the effect reads as energetic rather than messy and not distracting away from the focus. Finally, one of the keys to good thrillers is to let the audience fill in the blanks in their minds as much as possible. The lead up to Danny discovering the bathtub in Room 217 was suspenseful, but the reveal left many nearby audience members audibly chuckling. These inelegant instances, however, did not detract from the overall experience. Subsequent audiences for this production will only benefit from the time and energy put into this creative design and direction.
“The Shining” was commissioned by Minnesota Opera and is another stunning product of the Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative Production. As the new President & General Director, Ryan Taylor, made sure to announce in his pre-curtain talk, this production is one of two sold out runs in their five opera season. It is clear that Minnesota Opera audiences are hungry for these new works and Taylor, most recently as General Director of Arizona Opera, is poised to continue offering these outstanding productions.
There are three more performances of “The Shining” on May 12, 14, and 15, 2016. To find out more information, visit mnopera.org.