going nuts

Minnesota Opera’s “The Shining” Stands Tall With Book and Film

Photos by Ken Howard.

I’ve been a Kubrick fan for about ever. I even made my first website, a Geocities page, about his movies. I could spend a few thousand words on what I love about his movies, but let’s just skip to the part where I learned that the Minnesota Opera would be doing a brand new production based on the book, “The Shining.”

Hells yeah!

After a few years of going to opera at the Ordway, we’re starting to get a feel for the art form – what works better in Opera than elsewhere. Grandiosity is at the heart of the best productions we’ve seen. That fits so well with The Shining – a story that thrives on grandiosity. Even going with preconceived notions was not an issue, because the Minnesota Opera did a fantastic job of freshening up a story I’ve watched a couple dozen times (remember when we had so much free time and so many fewer ways to access entertainment as young humans that we could watch the same thing over and over? Do young people do that anymore?).

For those, like Becky, who never watched it before, here’s the basics. A father, mother and young son move into a remote Colorado hotel as caretakers for the winter. Isolation ensues. The boy has a vague mental power gift called The Shining. The haunted hotel doesn’t like that and proceeds to drive the father nuts enough to go after his family. I’ll leave it there, since the ending is different.

The Shining, movie, has one actual murder, which is pretty slim for a horror movie. And for that murder, they had to get a guy to come from Florida to show up and immediately get axed. But for the lack of death, there’s a ton of eerie and creepy. The score, the blood, chanting twins, bathroom gangrene lady, ghosts.

tossing time
I swear this kid gets tossed around like this throughout the production.       © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The opera’s version is stunning and amps up the tension at just the right speed. The music begins in a relatively familiar place, sweet even, but throughout the course of the evening, keeps getting weirder and more unsettling. The actors, likewise, time their performances well with gradual unraveling.

My personal favorite aspect of this production was the setting. The hotel is truly a character here with exits and entrances. It LOOMS. Three-story-high stage pieces for the bedroom and kitchen slide in and out, towering and confining at the same time. The actors look powerless in comparison. Who would be able to resist this beast? Projection mapping is used throughout – first on a see-through screen to put the family in a bucolic setting straight out of a viewfinder. Then the projectors highlight rooms, change scenery, and overall add the extra bit of creepiness that makes the set perfect.

hotel set
The hotel set dwarfs the actors perfectly.
Projection mapping
Projection mapping used to best effect. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The stellar music is by Paul Moravec. The libretto was written by Mark Campbell, who wrote Silent Night several years ago for the Minnesota Opera. The core cast of Brian Mulligan, Kelly Kaduce and Alejandro Vega do remarkable jobs portraying the dissolving Torrance family. Alejandro gets tossed around like a sack of potatoes throughout the opera and keeps on being awesome. Arthur Woodley, as Dick Hallorann, is gut-stompingly phenomenal in his role, particularly his show ending number.

Arthur Woodley as Dick Hallorann, the chef, is unbelievably amazing in The Shining. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

The opera certainly holds its own place against the movie and book. Each type of media excels at different things, and each one in this instance knows how to play to its strengths. There may not be blood elevators or a hedge maze, but by god the macabre party going ghosts in various outfits teamed with the insane music and crazy projections is enough to give you the sorts of willies that stick to your spine.

Crazy ghosts
Party time with the crazy ghosts. © 2016 Ken Howard for Minnesota Opera

Unfortunately, the opera is sold out. Hopefully they will reprise this one like they did for The Magic Flute. It’s certainly worth seeing again.

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