At MN Opera's 'The Shining,' have a Redrum and try to relax

Baritone Brian Mulligan
Baritone Brian Mulligan sings Jack Torrance in the Minnesota Opera's new adaptation of "The Shining."
Courtesy of Minnesota Opera

Maybe it was inevitable that bartenders at the world premiere of "The Shining" would offer a cocktail named Redrum.

The Minnesota Opera's production of Stephen King's spooky novel is strangely exuberant. As dark a tale as it is, everybody involved — from the lobby staff to the packed house to the cast on stage — seems to know they have a hit on their hands. It's creepy, yes, but it's also exciting.

If you know nothing of the story, here's a synopsis: A troubled family goes to spend the winter alone at a stately, remote hotel in the Rockies, but the hotel is haunted and bad things happen. The end.

Paul Moravec's music sets the tone from the first moments. It's a rich, multi-layered soundscape that breathes life into the Overlook Hotel, which is both the setting and the villain of the piece.

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Mark Campbell's libretto makes the point over and over again. Wendy assures young Danny that it's not his father trying to kill him, but the hotel. In turn, Danny uses his second sight, aka the shining, to tell his mother that the hotel has got Daddy, and wants to get them too.

If you're thinking of Jack and Wendy Torrance as Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall from the movie version, forget it. Brian Mulligan and Kelly Kaduce have created entirely new characters: He's stoic, introspective and determined to do the right thing, as homicidal maniacs go. And she's the picture of strength and fiercely protective maternal love — even if she does pick a stupid moment to go down to the kitchen and make sandwiches.

Projections make the Overlook's wallpaper crawl across its surfaces like the skin of some shape-shifting alien. Blood blooms from the walls. Finally, the set seems to be draped in living organs and tissue.

A set rendering
A set rendering from "The Shining."
Courtesy of Minnesota Opera

What's really horrifying, though, is Jack's transformation into a monster. Mulligan is a big man, and when he tosses Danny to the floor, then turns and drags Wendy by the ankle, the action of the opera becomes too intense for comfort.

Meanwhile, there's a party going on. The ghosts of a long-ago New Year's Eve masked ball are frolicking with other long-dead and some freshly dead victims of the hotel. An air of opulence mingles with grotesque imagery of animal faces and lingerie, as though the Rocky Horror crowd had crashed one of Jay Gatsby's parties.

Among other strong performances, Arthur Woodley stands out as Danny's confidante and protector, Dick Halloran. It falls to Woodley to sing the most melodic and comforting piece in the whole opera, and by the time it comes along, the wrung-out audience can really use it.

At the Overlook Hotel, it's deepest winter, and the snow is falling thickly. Outside the Ordway, it was a warm spring night, and it seemed like a very good thing they didn't hold this premiere in January.

The opera is playing to standing-room crowds through May 15.