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INTERVIEW: Arthur Woodley and The Shining

Photo by Theresa Murray.

Minnesota Opera’s The Shining, opening this Saturday, is one of the hottest tickets in town. If you were planning on seeing the opera and haven’t bought tickets yet, you might want to start courting a season ticket holder – the full run sold out weeks ago.

Every opera is a work built from many contributions; The Shining starts with the best-selling Stephen King novel of the same name, which serves as its source. The page-to-stage adaptation was penned by Mark Campbell (of Silent Night and The Manchurian Candidate), who wrote the libretto; the musical score was written by Paul Moravec (winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Music). The opera was commissioned and fostered under MNOpera’s New Works Initiative, under the leadership of NWI committee chair Margaret Wurtele.

Arthur Woodley
Arthur Woodley

The Twin Cities Arts Reader caught up with Arthur Woodley, who brings Dick Hallorann to life with his deep bass voice, to discuss The Shining and singing careers.

You took an unusual starting path to your singing career, with two years at New York City Community College, three years at the G.B. Martini Conservatory in Bologna, and then finally completing an undergraduate degree at Mannes College of Music. Most young American singers today rush through four years of an undergraduate voice program before doing extensive studies abroad. What led you to Italy so early in your studies, and do you recommend that opera singers in their early 20s study in Europe?

My years in Italy came about because the professor of choral music at NYC Community College felt that I was talented and that I should explore singing. Although my biology professor thought that biology was my talent, I wasn’t so sure, so I decided to dive into music. What began as a 1-year tryout became a 3-year journey.

I think that if you are young and thinking of a singing career, going to Europe is a wonderful thing. There, one can learn another language and culture – a culture in which opera is an essential part of everyday life.

What is your warm-up and pre-performance process like for your current role in The Shining?

My warm-up routine for this show is the same that it is for every show. I warm-up slowly, eat a light, early dinner, and spend some time being mindful of the story that I’m about to tell.

While studying in Italy, you sang in an Italian rock band; more recently, you starred in Champion: An Opera in Jazz. Many bel canto voice teachers discourage “crossover” singing for a variety of reasons; how do you navigate these very different genres with your own vocal instrument? Is this a flexible change, or are there distinct preparations and accommodations that you make?

The constant in all the different types of singing that I have done is a solid vocal technique. That should always be at the base of all that a singer does. What changes is the style of music, and that requires studying the forms and being vocally and mentally flexible.

What’s on your current opera listening list and why?

At this point in my career (over thirty years), I usually listen to the opera that is on my future schedule. Depending on the time I have, I begin listening to an opera 6-8 months before performances.

Opera aside, what are some things that you listen to for fun (e.g., podcasts, pop music, etc.)?

When I’m at home, I usually listen to jazz radio, “oldies” – 70s and 80s [music], and Italian pop music.

You spent a significant portion of your youth in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Do you still visit the Virgin Islands regularly?

The vast majority of my family and childhood friends live on St. Croix, and I visit the island about every two years. In March of this year, I gave two fundraising concerts on St. Croix to benefit a museum that promotes the history, culture, and language of the island.

Back to The Shining: Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s opera is, of course, based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King. Has the novel factored into your role preparation process? Were you familiar with it prior to being cast? 

I read the novel and saw the movie The Shining; however, I try to get my character off of the pages of the opera score. Pitch intervals, melodies, and words inform my identification and interpretation of my character. It is all on the page.

What’s up for you next after The Shining?

My next year’s agenda includes returns to Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro as well as a return to Champion, this time with the National Opera in Washington, DC.

Basil Considine