If you’re like me, you’ve seen the movie the brilliant, and you haven’t read the book. If you’re more familiar with the movie, you might also know Stanley Kubrickthe film takes a lot of liberties with the author Stephen Kingfrom the original story, adding iconic moments like the blood elevators, Danny’s talking finger, the twins’ appearance, and even Jack’s disappearance.
If your experience is more with the book, you might enjoy the recently adapted opera version better. Currently playing with Opera Colorado, Moravec & Campbell’s the brilliant is presented for the first time since its creation with the Minnesota Opera.
According to the program, King actually prefers opera to film…which isn’t saying much, considering he basically hates Kubrick’s film. The story itself is quite similar, however. Jack Torrance takes the job of winter watchman at the Overlook Hotel, where he will spend a few months locked up with his wife and son, Wendy and Danny. It is revealed almost immediately that Jack has a history of alcoholism and abuse, which concerns the hotel. While the film focuses more on the haunted aspect of the hotel, the opera focuses on the family’s emotional journey with Jack’s descent into madness.
Jack’s main task is to prevent the boiler from exploding by releasing its pressure twice a day. His son Danny meets hotel cook Dick Halloran, who entrusts him with a like-minded second sight he calls “the shining one”, allowing them to communicate while Halloran is away for the season. Halloran warns Danny of the dangers in the hotel.
In the boiler room, Jack discovers a box of newspaper clippings detailing the hotel’s sordid past, including an incident where the former caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his wife and daughters. Jack meets the ghost of Grady, who convinces him that he must also murder his family because “they need to be fixed” and “husbands and fathers have responsibilities”.
The spectacular set and projection design, which is the same used by Minnesota Opera, is by far the best part of the production. Aside from some terrifyingly moving vocal performances from the main characters and some gorgeous orchestral moments, the opera really struggled to give me chills.
The lyrical dialogue was not written well enough to be performed with what sounded like atonality. I had hoped for a lot more melodic moments and haunting dissonance, maybe even a bit of poetic lyricism, and that rarely happened. I imagine a lot of the dialogue was taken from the book, where he would feel more at home.
The chorus was also incredibly underused, only being present during group numbers on stage or as the singing voice of Danny, one of the only characters to speak throughout the show. I would have liked to hear the chorus create more atmosphere during most scenes.
Although I’m generally more familiar with the musical theater side of performance, I didn’t expect to see the brilliant musical. Where opera lacked for me was more opportunities to channel a more terrifying version of its own genre. The only really scary part for me was the seminal bathroom scene, where a naked gray woman (in a bodysuit) grabbed Danny and pulled him into the tub with her. I so wanted more moments like this.
Maybe I’m much more comfortable with the story than I knew from the movie, but it was hard for me to see how this version had more emotional depth, other than Jack’s decision to sacrifice himself for his family. The ghosts weren’t scary at all, and even the musicality wasn’t as shocking as it could have been.
Despite that, how cool is it that opera makes bold moves like this to stay relevant to its audience? I hope to see more risks being taken as the genre continues to attract new crowds, and I hope Opera Colorado continues to stay at the forefront.
the brilliant plays at Opera Colorado until March 6.