Brian Mulligan is currently one of the opera world’s fastest rising stars. The workhorse baritone can currently be seen in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is originating the role of Jack Torrance in a sold-out operatic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. King’s story depicts Torrance, a man who accepts a job as the overseer of the Overlook, a remote hotel in the middle of nowhere. Accompanied by his wife, Wendy and son, Danny, he slowly begins a descent into madness with horrific conseqeuence.
We recently caught up with Mulligan over the phone to discuss why audiences are drawn to this tale of horror.
MD: What attracted you to the role?
BM: I was a weird little kid who read all the Stephen King novels well before I should have and when I was a teenager, I came upon the film of The Shining, so I’ve known the Jack Torrance character for many years. To play a character as iconic as this has been has been a dream come true.
MD: Do you have any concerns that people are going into this production with preconceived notions about the Jack Nicholson portrayal and how do you plan to make it your own?
BM: I think because of the medium itself, people will understand that they are seeing something completely different. The libretto is so different from the film or the book. It’s just a nice, streamlined version. Most people are familiar with the imagery of the film and while there are similarities at the core, the opera itself will be unique.
MD: When Heath Ledger was filming The Dark Knight as The Joker, he was quoted as saying, “I slept an average of two hours a night while playing a psychopathic, mass-murdering character with zero empathy.” We certainly hope that you don’t go the tragic way of Ledger, but how do you differentiate your real life from the character of Jack Torrance?
BM: The difference between the Joker and Jack is that there’s a real journey with Jack Torrance. He starts off pretty normal (well, as normal as an alcoholic with domestic violence problems can be). Yet over the course of time, he loses his mind. He’s not a psychopath from the start. Because of Mark Campbell’s libretto and Paul Moravec’s score, it’s easy for me to make that transition from this man who feels completely worthless to someone who grapples with sanity. Jack feels as though his wife and son are failed extensions of himself and if he destroys them, he’ll better himself. But, I will say that I have not been sleeping all that well!
MD: What’s been the reaction from friends and family when you tell them you’re premiering the opera version of The Shining?
BM: Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a reputation for playing lunatics (laughs), so everyone has just kind of rolled their eyes and said, “Of course you are!” They are happy for me, but are not really surprised given my track record.
MD: This opera is sold out, the film is a classic, and the book is a bestseller. What it is about The Shining that has overwhelming popularity?
BM: A few things: First of all, the premise is so compelling. The idea of this small family feeling trapped with no escape elicits these feelings of fear and claustrophobia. It also is relatable because of familial relation. Plus, there is so much about the story that is unknown and unexplained.
MD:Right. there has been so much film criticism about the Stanley Kubrick movie. Will the opera contain any of the imagery depicted in that?
BM: Absolutely not. There can’t be. Stephen King owns the right and he famously denounced the film. One of the caveats for the opera to stage this was that there would not be any allusions to the Kubrick film.
MD: You’ve had 10 role debuts in the past 15 months. What do you do in your free time?
BM: Because of the huge volume of work, my down time has been preparing for the next role. I’m looking forward to Glimmerglass* this summer, where I’ll be doing the opera version of The Crucible and I hope i’ll have some time to hike.
*Glimmergass opera resides close to a 593 acre park in upstate New York.
The Shining runs through May 15 at the Ordway in St. Paul, Minnesota. The production is currently sold out, but more information is available at http://www.mnopera.org.
For information on Brian Mulligan’s current and upcoming engagements, visit his website http://www.brian-mulligan.com