PICK! ASR Theater ~~ The Shining: Ghostly Extravaganza Enlivened Onstage

By Jeff Dunn

Most of us attend opera hoping for a transformative experience. No matter what happens, in the end, we are left only with its memories flitting in our being, like ghosts. Opera Parallèle’s production of The Shining features a dozen or so hotel-haunting ghosts that lodge in short-term memory, but I suspect the long-term ghosts in my memory of the opera will be only three: its engaging staging, its cinematic score, and wishing it had possessed more than the ghost of a good old-fashioned aria.

The most compelling reason to experience The Shining is the respective projection, lighting, and sound effects by David Murakami, Jim French and Andrew Mayer. The ESP of young Danny Torrance (Tenzin Forder) manifests as peripatetic static flashes. A projection on the entire set characterizes the Overlook Hotel as a malevolent system of throbbing internal organs. Choral eeriness emerges from various locations, etc., etc., making the audience beg for more.

Opera Parallele’s production of “The Shining” in San Francisco.

Stephen King’s story of the descent into madness of Danny’s father Jack while caretaking the Overlook in the dead of winter with his wife and son is inventively orchestrated in Paul Moravec’s music. A reduction from the original full orchestra to 21 musicians sounded more than sufficiently weighty, thanks to Nicole Paiement’s precise yet dramatic music direction. Lush outdoor music underscores their happy fall arrival, but stranger sounds emerge with the hotel’s ghosts of former murderers. Action sequences are punctuated by catchy rhythms. I’m surprised that Moravec’s descriptive mastery has not yet led to film scores.

Brian Staufenbiel’s stage direction left nothing to be desired. Jack’s transformation from daddy to baddy was superbly and humanely characterized by Robert Wesley Mason. His wife Wendy was lovingly portrayed by Kearstin Piper Brown. Kevin Deas was a vocal and acting standout as cook Dick Halloran. Among the many minor roles, David Walton’s clear and insinuating tenor as the tempting ghost Delbert was especially riveting. Daniel Cilli was a looming presence as Jack’s abusive dead father Mark, aided by shoulder pads from the versatile costume designer Alina Bokovikova.

Stephen King’s story of the descent into madness…is inventively orchestrated in Paul Moravec’s music.

Will this opera last? A superficial horror story with effects would have been supplanted by yet another in time. To Moravec’s and librettist Mark Campbell’s credit, their mining of the novel rather than the movie added some gravitas to family relationships. What I fervently wished for on first hearing, however, was more emphasis on what has been said to be what opera is all about: the singing voice, not just the acting voice.

On stage is Robert Wesley Mason (Jack Torrance), Kearstin Piper Brown (Wendy Torrance) and company members.

Only two vocal segments might be called proper arias, Wendy’s “I never stopped loving you” in Act 1, and Dick’s “These woeful days will be over” at the end of the opera. It seemed that only the music for the latter flattered the voice with the grace of potentially memorable melody. It seems so rare these days that new operas can give us stronger music to take home in our hearts. The last one I can remember is John Adams’ “Batter my heart” from Dr. Atomic.

And may it remain there, even more than a ghost!


Jeff Dunn is ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor. A retired educator and project manager, he’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA. His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

ProductionThe Shining
Based on novel by Steven King
Directed byBrian Staufenbiel
Producing CompanyOpera Parallèle
Production DatesThru June 4th
Production AddressBlue Shield of CA Theater at YBCA
700 Howard St, SF, CA 94103
Telephone(415) 392-4400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!