‘The Shining’ Opera: Stephen King’s Haunting Modernized Stage Spectacle Is Scary Good

The operatic version of Stephen King’s The Shining opened on Saturday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, and it has already set the drama world on fire. It is, according to a review from Minn Post, both extremely scary and endlessly entertaining, but what is even more noteworthy about The Shining’s stage adaptation is that it redefines opera as an exciting and relatable modern artform.

Many readers may hear The Shining as an “opera” and immediately think, “ugh, this is going to be a few hours of overweight actors dressed as vikings belting out unintelligible concertos set to classical music in the same vein as Wagner or Verdi.” Those readers would be mistaken, though.

An opera is actually just a musical in which the voices of the actors/singers remain unamplified and the music played is produced by an actual group of instrumentalists rather than digital recordings or a single pianist, according to the Welsh National Opera.

And The Shining is certainly not what one might think of when picturing a classical opera. Characters dress in snow clothes rather than tunics and act like actual people instead of stage caricatures.

Quartz points out that The Shining’s stage retelling follows a story very similar to the one told in Stephen King’s 1977 novel, refusing to alter the story’s tone and many of its major plot points like Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 silver screen adaptation did. This leads The Shining to evoke a grittier, more suspenseful feel, and King himself said that he much prefers The Shining opera to the cult classic film version.

For the uninitiated, Stephen King’s The Shining is basically about a man named Jack Torrance who takes the job as the caretaker of a hotel called the Overlook during the winter months, when excessive snowfall in the area makes the hotel unusable and all the hotel’s other staff leaves. Torrance brings his family with him to stay in the otherwise-abandoned hotel for the winter. Needless to say, some terrible — and exciting — things happen during the Torrance family’s time at the hotel, and the fantastically executed slow-burn approach The Shining‘s operatic iteration takes to the retelling of those unfortunate proceedings keeps viewers on the edges of their respective seats.

The choice to adapt a modern tale like Stephen King’s The Shining to the opera format was a very deliberate choice by The Shining‘s producers. Mark Campbell, who wrote the non-musical portion of The Shining opera, said he and the other producers had hoped to appeal to a larger audience than just opera buffs by telling a story with a large amount of name recognition in pop culture.

“There will be opera lovers [in the audience], but what I really hope is there will be people who have not gone to the opera before.”

Paul Moravec composed the music for The Shining, and reviews agree he did an excellent job instilling the Overlook with the blood-curdlingly creepy vibes Stephen King’s The Shining was meant to have.

Moravec says The Shining was perfect for converting into a musical, because a large portion of the story centers around the internal struggles and inner monologues of the individual characters.

The lighting for The Shining opera is another highlight of the show, critics agree, utilizing projections and eerily contrasting color palettes to exaggerate the feeling that something is not quite right onstage.

Overall, critics across the board have declared The Shining opera a resounding success. They almost always emphasize how scary and unsettling it is, which they note is a quality which sets The Shining apart from other operas.

Tickets for this weekend’s Shining shows, which will take place on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, are sold out, but The Shining fans, disciples of Stephen King, and theater lovers alike should keep checking back at the Minnesota Opera’s official site to find out when they’re available.

[Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images]