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REVIEW: The Shining = Brilliant Psychodrama (Minnesota Opera)

A disturbed Jack Torrance (Brian Mulligan) menaces his wife Wendy (Kelly Kaduce) and son Danny (Alejandro Vega) in The Shining. Photo by Ken Howard.

Minnesota Opera’s 2015-2016 season comes to a crashing bang with The Shining, an adaptation of the bestselling horror novel by Stephen King. The main thing wrong with this production appears to be that the Powers That Be scheduled it for too few performances – the opera sold out weeks before opening night, and scalpers have been making a healthy killing on Ebay and Craigslist. A revival of the opera around Halloween with some extra atmosphere and horror effects would make a bonafide box office reaping.

Wendy (Kelly Kaduce) and Danny (Alejandro Vega) Torrance meditate on the strange turns that their life has taken. Photo by Ken Howard.
Wendy (Kelly Kaduce) and Danny (Alejandro Vega) Torrance meditate on the strange turns that their life has taken. Photo by Ken Howard.

The Shining is a tight ship: it’s actually a half hour faster than the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation, including the intermission. Mark Campbell’s libretto is focused and economical in its prose, saying much through relatively few films. Kelly Kaduce (as Wendy Torrance) and Brian Mulligan (as Jack Torrance) dig deep into this psychodrama and color it with some delicious acting. When things start to go downhill in Act II, it’s a splendid ride to the finish.

The biggest concern after the orchestral workshop of The Shining last fall was how some of the more turbulent musical passages would play out on stage. Paul Moravec’s score uses a melodic language in which each character’s singing is rooted in their own musical mode; when events and music collide in the mass crowd scene, the purely sonic result can be amorphous and hard to make sense of. As realized on stage, however, the brilliant projections by 59 Productions and costume designs by Kärin Kopischke transform this into a wonderful artistic depiction of chaos, with musical lines and characters emerging from the turbulent mass under Michael Christie’s careful baton. The musical idiom is complex, but the core of the opera score is broadly accessible; this would make an excellent first opera for neophytes (or, in lay terms, opera virgins).

Jack Torrance (Brian Mulligan) contemplates advice from the deceased Delbert Grady (David Walton). Photo by Ken Howard.
Jack Torrance (Brian Mulligan) contemplates advice from the deceased Delbert Grady (David Walton). Photo by Ken Howard.

Although there are many featured singers, the principal characters in this opera are the family of Jack Torrance (Brian Mulligan), Wendy Torrance (Kelly Kaduce), and son Danny Torrance (Alejandro Vega), plus the cook Dick Hallorann (Arthur Woodley). This is an acting-heavy piece resting on this strong quartet; Mulligan’s portrayal of Jack’s slow transformation into insanity is riveting to watch. As Wendy, Kaduce endures an even more tortuous journey than her previous Tosca, showing some splendid acting along with her trademark beautiful voice. Vega’s role is non-singing, but his strong performance is a key aspect of the show.

For those who have not read the novel but seen the movie, the opera’s use of the novel as its source material may result in some significant surprises. One of these is the larger role of Dick Hallorann in the narrative, giving Arthur Woodley the opera’s most beautiful aria, “These woeful days will be over.” Woodley’s golden bass sent shivers through the audience; the aria has everything needed to become a concert and audition favorite. Most of the opera is through-composed, with duets and arioso passages interspersed, but the true arias include several moments of great beauty. As with Puccini’s late operas, the arias are always earned and worth the wait – and hold their weight.

The Shining plays at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts through May 15.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and a contributing writer for The Boston Music Intelligencer. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America‘s 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.

http://basilconsidine.org
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