"Here's Johnny!" The Shining Opera Comes to Denver | Westword

"Here's Johnny!" The Opera Version of The Shining Comes to Denver

"Wendy, I'm home!"
The opera adapts from Stephen King's novel rather than the film.
The opera adapts from Stephen King's novel rather than the film. Ken Howard
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When composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, who have both received the Pulitzer Prize for Music, began working on an opera adaptation of The Shining for the Minnesota Opera, they looked to Stephen King’s novel as a guidepost rather than Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film. It took them three years, with Campbell reducing more than 600 pages of the novel into about fifty pages of text for the opera, which had its world premiere in Minnesota in 2016.

Now Opera Colorado is presenting the regional premiere of The Shining, from February 26 through March 6 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Grammy winner Edward Parks makes his Opera Colorado debut as the unstable Jack Torrance, who descends into madness during his stay at the Overlook Hotel, which was inspired by the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Kelly Kaduce, who was in the Minnesota production, reprises her role as Wendy Torrance, while Micah VonFeldt, a seventh-grader who lives in Highlands Ranch, makes his Opera Colorado debut as Danny Torrance, and Kevin Deas sings the role of Dick Hallorann, the Overlook Hotel chef who shares the “shining” ability with Danny.

“The book really is much more naturally operatic,” Moravec observes. “It's a warmer story. I see it as a little counterintuitive, because we think of it as this horror story. And of course it is...but at its core, I think it's really a love story. It’s about love. It's about a family trying to stay together and survive under the most extraordinary circumstances. And there's a warmth to the story. The tone is very different from [that of] the movie, which is icy and cynical.”

Moravec notes that opera as a genre traditionally has three elements: love, death and power, which he says King’s novel has on steroids, making it more organic to adapt into opera. There’s also a supernatural element to the novel, with the inclusion of ghosts.

“So it has this kind of otherworldly quality, which I associate with music,” he says. “I think of music as an art form that's kind of otherworldly to begin with. And so the thing that music has in common with ghosts and these energy fields — they're both energy fields that are invisible, unless you can see ghosts. But generally, music is sort of this invisible, mysterious energy field that’s hard to grasp. I mean, it's an abstract language.”
When choosing music for a character in opera, Moravec says, his first questions are usually, “Why are people singing? Why are they standing two feet away from each other, singing at each other from the top of their lungs? If you think of opera as a teakettle, and you fill it with water, what is boiling the water that causes the teakettle to sing?”

“From the get-go with this very dramatic story, there's a reason for these people engaging in this essentially irrational art form of singing rather than simply speaking,” he continues. “And that brings up the question of dreams. People sing in dreams. They don't sing in real life normally, but they do in dreams, and it's the dream logic. It's the logic of dreams and ghosts and spirits and this whole fantasy world, so it all kind of works together.”

After Campbell wrote the libretto for The Shining, Moravec, who says the text is brilliant, poetic and beautiful, looked to the characters for musical inspiration.

“Somehow they tell me what they want — at least what they want to sound like,” he says. “And in some sort of mysterious way, they tell me what the melodies are. What are they singing? I said to the characters, ‘You tell me what you want to do.’ So we work together, me and my imaginary characters.”

When composing music for the opera, Moravec took a few cues from Richard Wagner, Giacomo Puccini, Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck and Stephen Sondheim — in particular, using a template based on the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd.

“There's overlap among these characters in a way, between Sweeney, Wozzeck and Jack Torrance,” Moravec points out. “They all have a lot in common. Those are important influences in this piece.”
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The Shining opens on Saturday, February 26, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Ken Howard
The Opera Colorado production, which is the second mounting of the Shining opera nationwide, will include animations and projection design by 59 Productions, a Tony-winning creative studio that has done work for Broadway, including for Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Big Fish. The Overlook Hotel features prominently in the production, and Moravec says that through lighting design and digital technology like 3D mapping, it starts off looking like a normal hotel, but as things go sideways, it begins to morph.

“It's like the hotel becomes a character,” Moravec explains. “The hotel is a character in the story, and I treat it that way musically. And it actually changes. You'll see its character change individually; it will change as the story goes on."

King has voiced his dissatisfaction with Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. That sentiment led to him writing and producing a 1997 miniseries for ABC based on the novel and filmed at the Stanley Hotel.

“[King] didn't like the Kubrick film,” Moravec says. “When you read the book, you realize why. For one thing, Hallorann doesn't get killed in the book. In the story and in the opera, Dick Hallorann emerges as the hero of the story, in a way. And my favorite scene in the book and in the opera is the finale, which isn't in the movie at all.

“It’s a beautiful ending," he adds. "It's a beautiful final chapter, where Hallorann has taken Danny and Wendy to Maine so that they can recuperate from their wounds — their physical wounds, among other things. And he’s sitting on a dock talking to Danny. It's a great scene, and that's how the opera ends and the book ends.”

While the two-and-a-half-hour opera ends like the novel, other elements were left out because of time constraints, but the opera still focuses on the book's psychological terror.

Moravec says the production looks spectacular, and it’s very dramatic.

“At the end of the day, it's about character,” he says. “It's about Jack and Wendy Torrance and Danny and Dick Hallorann. And you get to know Delbert Grady somewhat, and Lloyd the bartender, and so on. ... For all the terror and suspense, it's a warm story about human beings; it's a very human story. And again, these are characteristics that come from the book itself. This is what we're adapting to stage here.”

The Shining, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26; Tuesday, March 1; Thursday, March 3, and Friday, March 4; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 6. Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Performing Arts Complex; tickets are $35-$215.
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