Carlyn Hill and Josephine Pellow in The Shining (Ken Howard)
Forgive the broad generalization—because of course, no form of storytelling is one-size-fits-all—but it seems safe to say that as a medium, opera naturally lends itself to telling grandiose stories, heavy on the spectacle and dramatics (both visual and thematic), full of over-the-top emotions. It makes perfect sense, then, that a marriage of opera and horror would work beautifully, and might actually make one wonder why the two don’t come together more often. Lyric Opera’s production of The Shining, currently having a brief run at the Kauffman Center, definitely makes a case for more of these pairings moving forward.
The Shining is a faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name (and it does follow the book rather than Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation), telling the story of Jack (Edward Parks) and Wendy Torrance (Kelly Kaduce), who, along with their young son Danny (Tristan Hallett), take a position as the winter caretakers for the remote and palatial Overlook Hotel. The isolation quickly takes a toll on Jack, who is working to recover from alcohol addiction and haunted by the literal ghost of his own abusive father (among other figures roaming the hotel and his mind), and also on Danny, whose mysterious and debilitating psychic abilities—dubbed the “shining” by the hotel’s cook Mr. Hallorann (Aubrey Allicock)—give him a window into the terrifying spectral world of the Overlook’s history of death and destruction. The entire cast is stellar but it is Kaduce’s deeply emotive Wendy who exudes the most constant pain and trauma, perhaps because she is the only character not to interact with this other world but is tasked with caring for these men in her life who exist on both plains. As such, she is forced to suffer a pain she cannot see, but which dominates her life, casting a dark shadow even on moments of happiness and hope.
In addition to the fantastic cast and the hauntingly, almost disturbingly beautiful music (by Paul Moravec, libretto by Mark Campbell, performed expertly by the orchestra led by conductor Gerard Schwarz), the real standout of the show is Erhard Rom’s set and the animations and projections from 59 Productions and video programmer and design realizer Brian Pacelli. Rom’s towering, moving set is exquisite, able to capture the Overlooks’ sometimes oppressive expansiveness, and is constantly being transformed by the projections, from the elaborate wallpapers eerily towering over the stage to a gray tinge that accentuates the ghostly elements, only to be blown apart with shocking bursts of blood red.
This Kansas City production, directed by Eric Simonson, will be released next spring as the first-ever audio recording of the production, first mounted in 2016, which is a definite point of pride for the city’s cultural scene. It’s only a shame that these truly spectacular visuals can’t also be shared with that wider audience.
“The Shining,” a production of Lyric Opera KC, runs at the Kauffman Center (1601 Broadway Blvd) through March 19 and contains content that may be disturbing to some audiences. For more information, visit kcopera.org/performances/the-shining/.