As I’m sure you’re already aware, Stephen King’s The Shining is a standout work of fiction. It was a quick hit after its 1977 release and is still one of the truest examples of an ‘instant classic’. Three years later, Stanley Kubrick’s film brought a roundly disturbing depth to the book’s characters and themes. Both are considered masterworks, so what more could you do to tell this story? If you’re first thought was ‘opera’, you most likely work for an opera. But you’re also right.
An operatic adaptation of The Shining had its world primere on May 7th at the Minnesota Opera, beginning a sold-out run that has captured attention for being equal parts terrifying and faithful to its storied roots. So faithful, in fact, that the creators sought out Stephen King’s approval of the libretto (which he gave).
It’s understandable that most may not see an obvious connection between King’s masterpiece and opera: after all, aren’t operas those stuffy, drawn-out melodramas in foreign languages even your grandparents hated going to? Composer Paul Moravec argues otherwise, saying that the common ground between the book’s world and the fundamentals of opera is strong enough to captivate those only familiar with one or the other.
“Stephen King’s original novel is all about love, death and power, and those are the three foundational components for an opera,” Moravec told NPR. He also said that adapting from the book presented an entirely new challenge in plotting. He and librettist Mark Campbell learned to retell a story, one that many in the audience have likely committed to memory, engagingly and quickly in a form that is known for its dwelling on emotional beats.
There is a long, storied history of novels being the fertile ground from which opera grows, but not many ever have much crossover reach with readers. The Shining sets to break past this boundary, continuing the Minnesota Opera’s tradition of premiering works based on popular books and movies. The ultimate goal, Campbell said, is to create operas that become repertoire around the world, and “to expose [audiences] to new and exciting and challenging music”, regardless of what they know about the style or what kind of books they read.
Featured images courtesy of Ken Howard/The Minnesota Opera