Opera Dives Deep: And So It Begins

By: Lyric Opera Staff

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Prior to arriving in Kansas City for Lyric Opera’s production of The Shiningcomposer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell joined Opera Dives Deep via Zoom to discuss their careers, inspiration, and secrets behind the making of the opera!

“I knew this piece had legs right away.” -Mark Campbell

Q: What can you tell us about the genesis of this work? How did the idea come up? 

Eric Simonson brought the idea to Paul Moravec after seeing his work The Letter. Originally, they wanted to do a Rosemary’s Baby opera but couldn’t get the rights. Dale Johnson (Minnesota Opera) introduced Moravec to Mark Campbell when commissioning The Shining, and the rest is history!

“Only a very powerful love can overcome generations of abuse.” -Mark Campbell

Q: Mark, when you were in Kansas City for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs in 2022, you highlighted the importance of discussing generational trauma as it applies to The Shining. Can you tell us how that plays out? Do you feel the cycle of abuse is broken?

There’s horror involved in The Shining, but it’s more than ghosts and a haunted hotel. Ultimately, its a human story about a family trying to get through a difficult situation. There are many forces that play into the deterioration of Jack’s mind, including abuse from his own father. For all of his works, Mark creates a theme sentence. For The Shining, his sentence was: “Only a very powerful love can overcome generations of abuse.” In this story, love comes from many places; every story has to come from hope. 

“At its heart, opera is very simple. It’s about simple, universal, timeless, and deeply felt human emotion. We are human beings first and last.” -Paul Moravec

Q: A lot of work goes into developing, writing, and workshopping a new opera. Can you tell us about that process with The Shining?

The workshopping process with Minnesota Opera was crucial in the development of The Shining. Through piano and orchestral workshops, Moravec and Campbell were able to work out kinks with directors and artists. They were very detailed in what was possible, from set design to artist performance. Paul and Mark focused on the simplest human emotions.

“Jack Torrance is singing in twelve-tone rows… he has become a serial killer.” -Paul Moravec

Q: How does the music reflect Jack losing his mind?

The opera begins in the world of tonality and slowly disintegrates. Tonality is centric, and by the middle of act II the music has lost it’s center and harmonic mooring. After the resolution of the opera when Dick Halloran saves Danny and Wendy, the music regains tonality. Dick Halloran sings his final aria, and the music returns to its moral center; the universe is back in balance.

Q: Stephen King was very honest about his dislike of the movie. Did you have any correspondence with Stephen King?

Moravec had to get in contact with Stephen King for the rights to the story. When Minnesota Opera was having trouble getting in contact, Peter Straub connected King with Moravec. Though Stephen King has never met Moravec, he endorses the opera after seeing its success.

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