I’m not much of a one for the horror genre, so I came to the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s first night of The Shining somewhat wary, uninitiated by either Stephen King's celebrated novel nor Stanley Kubrick's film. But what a thoroughly spectacular opera Paul Moravec’s music and Mark Campbell’s lyrics make. I was thoroughly gripped from beginning to end. Furthermore, even though every justice is paid to the horror element, even more so is it a moving, profound psychodrama of father and son, both of whom, if you will, have a shining; the father’s kind – given the baggage of his past and his crushing anxiety about not measuring up as a man, as a husband and as a father – is one that will lead to his death, albeit a death that is played as ultimately redemptive of his family, and destructive only of a haunted locum of evil. 

Edward Parks (Jack) and Kelly Kaduce (Wendy)
© Ken Howard

Unquestionably Eric Simonson's staging – set designs, video projections, side-effects – are mesmerisingly good. Even the “ordinary terror” of the damask wallpaper, perpetually in motion, so conventional in a hotel of its faded glory, and yet so foreboding. The “small spaces” of bedroom, kitchen and offices are so perfectly ordinary (grey doors, stainless steel pans) and the large spaces so characteristic of period, corridors lit by regulation sconces at regular intervals, ballroom with elegant winding staircase, and the functional/dysfunctional heart of the hotel – the boiler-room, which is where Jack finds the lurid history of the hotel in boxes, and where he causes the sacrificial conflagration of the whole damned place.

Moravec’s score, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, is no mere accompaniment to the action but, in many ways, is the action itself: the commentary, and the prophecy, undergirding with unease even that otherwise sweet family opening scene when the Torrances arrive, excited about starting a new chapter of life, free from their demons. The music holds the score throughout, a jolt, the merest whisper of the preternatural, the abrupt silences, the ratcheting up of the crises, both interior and exterior.  

The Grady girls
© Ken Howard

Particularly gorgeous and fitting are the layering of styles in the scenes of the dissolute 1940s masked ball, with its jazzy big band carefree feel mixed with contemporary sourness. Something is out of joint. Shout out to costume designer Karin Kopischke for amplifying the horror by a look of old-word decadence. The historical crimes of Overlook are largely those of the beau monde, no doubt appealing to Jack’s novelistic sensibility. Flattering, for someone as troubled by his own failure, to be called, respectfully with jazzy confidence, “Mr Torrance” and told that he is the “definition of success”. The ghostly aesthetic is in direct contrast to his own unremarkable fairisle-sweater-slumps-towards lumberjack look, and his wife’s ordinariness.   

Edward Parks (Jack)
© Ken Howard

Edward Parks as Jack lent his sustained baritone to the role: he sang with great variation of emotion, although occasionally I wanted more heft from him, and Kelly Kaduce’s clear, impassioned soprano made for a powerful Wendy. They were a believable pair, a basically loving couple, beset by past and present. Tristan Hallett as their little boy Doc, has a crucial part, and played it with ringing innocence. He can’t save his father, but at the critical moment, he does save him from himself and from the worse crime of murder, bringing about the possibility of his father’s redemptive death. Aubrey Allicock was a resonant baritone as Hallorann, and Wayd Odle’s ingratiating smooth tenor as Delbert Grade, was full well the insidious voice of evil. 

I loved the juxtapositions on offer – grizzled Mark Torrance with his cane, and Jack with the croquet mallet, and indeed that moment of exquisite theatre, the silent quartet, when Jack, singing of his desire to protect his family, is “overlooked” by three silent “guests/ghosts” emerging from the rooms upstairs. Silence can be as powerful as song. The juxtaposition of voices allows for a final sense that he blows himself and the hotel up to save his family, triumphing over the cacophony of evil which would have him destroy both his wife and especially his son.  

Edward Parks (Jack) and Wayd Odle (Delbert)
© Ken Howard

His last act is to break his father’s cane, symbolic of breaking the man’s nefarious influence over him, and over his family. So it comes perhaps as something of a surprise to see the intact cane beside Wendy in the last scene. Perhaps it’s made innocuous by context: she is knitting, her son is fishing, order is restored. There is no forgetting the past, but it has no power to break them any more; the cane is a crutch not a weapon. 

This was a fully engaging piece of theatre that worked at every level, especially the most basic, inviting us into the relationship between fathers and sons, and leaving not devastation in its wake, but something as unexpected as hope.