Brian Mulligan: singing Jack Torrance Brian Mulligan as Jack Torrance. Photo: Minnesota Opera.

Brian Mulligan: singing Jack Torrance

Jenna Simeonov

Minnesota Opera presents the world premiere of The Shining, a new opera by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, based on the novel by Stephen King. American baritone Brian Mulligan is set to sing the role of Jack Torrance, the notorious, demon-filled family man who takes a job at the secluded Overlook Hotel.

Mulligan talks about discovering Jack Torrance, about singing world premieres, and how he’s excited about telling the story of The Shining on the live stage.

You’ve played villains before in your career - how does Jack Torrance compare to roles like Enrico or Sweeney Todd?

At the heart of every character I play, there is a rationale for his behavior, no matter how heinous. Sweeney is heartbroken; Enrico is desperate; but with Jack Torrance things are more complicated. Jack’s story is one of a man succumbing to his own demons, which stem from growing up in a home of extreme domestic violence. So the back story is there, the reasons this man could turn into the monster he becomes, regardless of any ghosts at the Overlook Hotel.

What makes Jack Torrance different from other villains is that he’s fun. He has a ball terrorizing his helpless little family… and he is absolutely remorseless! His wife and son are merely failed extensions of himself, and there’s a joy in him once he decides to destroy them. He’s empowered and in control, with a purpose. It’s a lot of fun to be that sadistic.

What are your favourite parts of working on a world premiere? What do you find challenging about it?

It’s exhilarating to create something brand new, unknown and untested — that’s my favorite part. The most challenging aspect of a world premiere is remembering that the score is still a living, breathing piece of art that is changing and growing into its finished state. That’s my polite way of complaining about dealing with daily changes to the score. It’s tough to remember all of those changes, as minor as they seem!

How does a story like The Shining translate from novel to movie to opera? What elements of the story can an operatic adaptation bring to light?

The premise of The Shining is so compelling, I think it’s natural that the creators Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell wanted to adapt it into an opera, much like Stanley Kubrick wanted to make it into a film. The music in this opera is very atmospheric, sometimes genuinely frightening, and it heightens the terror of the story. As ever, operatic singing produces unique sounds of emotion that cannot be expressed through spoken word.

When I sing Jack Torrance, I strive to create sounds of hope and terror and despair and glee so that the audience feels my character and understands him in a way they couldn’t by watching a movie or reading a book. And of course, nothing compares to the experience of live theater.

Watching the story of The Shining unfold live should prove to be thrilling.

In your work in North America and in Europe, what have you found are the differences in opera on either side of the pond?

Wherever I am in the world, when I’m working, I’m mostly consumed with two things: fully understanding the psychological realities of my character and dealing with the technical/musical challenges of the score.

Oftentimes, I am in my own head (or in my character’s head), and so I don’t notice much difference in where I’m working! I only really notice the different people. What I do love about working both in North America and Europe is the opportunities I have to collaborate with many new people. New minds, new cultures and new ideas broaden my own understanding of art and life, and that makes me a better artist.

How do you maintain a routine while you’re on the road? Do you have any must-pack items that go with you everywhere?

It’s challenging establishing routines, always being on the road. When I arrive in a new city, I quickly choose a favorite grocery store and join a nearby gym, and then I’m pretty much good to go. You have to take care of yourself first, making sure you’re comfortable and healthy, so you can perform at your best. My must-pack items are a Camelbak water bottle, some great headphones and my neti-pot, which keeps me healthy.

What roles are still on your “bucket list” that you’ve not yet had a chance to sing?

The roles I’m most looking forward to are the Dutchman, Iago, Wozzeck, Macbeth, Scarpia, the Traveller in Death in Venice and Wotan.

Minnesota Opera’s The Shining opens to almost sold-out audiences on May 7. Click here for full details, behind-the-scenes photos, and to hear a taste of the score.

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