The Shining set. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota opera.
The 1977 novel The Shining by Stephen King, I’m always willing to argue, was a great contemporary American work beyond its horror genre categorization, and the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name is enough to unsettle even today (and made Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show catchphrase impossible to ever again hear in innocence).
But an opera? “At first look, I thought, Wow this is a strange idea—pretty damn audacious,” says New York–based Mark Campbell, brought in to pen the libretto for the Minnesota Opera’s world premiere. “But if you read the novel, so many aspects are operatic: A character struggling with the deep evil forces within him, alcoholism, abuse from his father, and this deep love for his wife and son while wondering how he’s going to protect them from himself.”
A bit more nuanced, then, than Jack Nicholson’s homicidal leer playing Jack Torrence ensconced for the winter with his family in a remote vacant luxury hotel and slowly falling prey to supernatural entities and the poison in his own mind. Campbell draws closer to King’s depiction of a man caught in the grip of powerful forces yet ultimately hoping to find redemption.
And, he points out, the score by Paul Moravec ratchets up the drama. “Music intensifies the feelings of rage in the story, and son Danny’s psychic abilities,” says Campbell. “The music intensifies the suspense. And that’s one of the reasons for doing it—we’re hoping The Shining will attract a new audience for opera.”
With his fourth libretto for Minnesota Opera, Campbell is glowing when talking about the Twin Cities’ openness to new work (he describes the track record for new operas in New York as “absolutely abysmal”). And he describes a couple of plot points best not spoiled here, except to say that a voice emerges at the end of the first act that should generate sufficient goosebumps to make us rush back after intermission, and the ending could well produce a lump in the throat to match.