The Shining 101 – Characters and Synopsis

December 16, 2021 | By Suzanne Whitney | Opera 101, The Shining

Two grim sisters stand hand in hand in front of a bright red door labeled 217.

By: Suzanne Whitney & Bethany Wood

In February and March of 2022, Opera Colorado presents the regional premiere of Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s opera The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King. It may seem unnecessary to go over the characters and synopsis for the opera; I mean, The Shining is iconic! For some, it conjures images of a boy on a tricycle, creepy twins, and Jack Nicholson’s manic face pressing through a splintered door in Stanely Kubric’s movie adaptation. For others, The Shining will always be Steven King’s original novel—the spine-tingling thriller that investigates the loneliness that comes from wrestling your inner demons. 

It is all about the novel for composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell. These two incredible artists created their operatic adaptation with a focus on maintaining the story and themes of the novel. So, for those of you who need an introduction to the literary side of things or are new to the story altogether, we’ve got you covered!

Learn the basics of this operatic adaptation of a horror classic before it hits the stage!

Tickets to Opera Colorado’s production of The Shining are on sale now>>


The Creators

Composer – Paul Moravec

Librettist Mark Campbell

Source Material The Shining by Stephen King

The Characters

Jack Torrance (baritone) – New winter caretaker for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Edward Parks in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere. 

Wendy Torrance (soprano) – Jack’s wife and Danny’s mother. Played by Kelly Kaduce in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere. Watch Kelly perform “Song to the Moon” as the title role in Opera Colorado’s 2011 production of Rusalka. Watch Now>>

Danny Torrance (spoken child role) – Young son of Wendy and Jack Torrance, blessed with a gift called “the shining.” 

Dick Hallorann (baritone) – Cook for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Kevin Deas in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Stuart Ullman (tenor) – Manager for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Joseph Gaines in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Bill Watson (tenor) – Staff member for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Spencer Lawrence Boyd in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Mark Torrance (baritone) – Jack’s late father. Played by Troy Cook in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Delbert Grady (tenor) – Former caretaker for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Vale Rideout in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Mrs. Grady (soprano) – Delbert’s wife. Played by Catherine Swindle in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

The Grady Girls (sung child roles) – Delbert’s daughters.

Mrs. Massey (mezzo-soprano) – A former guest at The Overlook Hotel. Played by Kendra Broom in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Horace Derwent (baritone) – Former owner of The Overlook Hotel. Played by Thomas Lynch in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

Lloyd the Bartender (tenor) – Bartender for The Overlook Hotel. Played by Spencer Lawrence Boyd in Opera Colorado’s 2022 regional premiere.

The Setting

The Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Stephen King’s inspiration for the original novel came from a stay at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO.

The Plot

Every adaptation has some differences from the source materials. Get to know the plot of Moravec & Campbell’s The Shining. Wondering why you would want to read a synopsis before you attend the opera? Learn more in our post “Before the Opera”>> 

Act One – An October day in the Colorado Rockies

The opera opens with the Torrance family appreciating the beauty of the Rockies as they journey to The Overlook Hotel. Jack, Wendy, and their son Danny are excited to spend the winter as caretakers of the grand hotel while it is closed for the season.

At the hotel, Mr. Hallorann, the hotel cook, and Mr. Ullman, the hotel manager, have stayed to meet the Torrances. Mr. Ullman takes the opportunity to confront Jack about information he discovered regarding Jack’s past, including Jack’s addiction to alcohol and his violent temper. Jack assures Ullman he has given up alcohol and the reports of his violent behavior are overblown. Ullman then introduces Jack to Mr. Watson, who teaches Jack how to maintain the hotel’s antiquated boiler, which will explode if the pressure gets too high. Jack finds documents related to the hotel’s history. “Every hotel has secrets,” Watson explains, including a past caretaker, Delbert Grady, who murdered his wife and two daughters, and Mrs. Massey, who committed suicide in the bathtub of room 217.

Meanwhile, Hallorann tells Danny he knows that the young boy can sense things and communicate with his mind. Hallorann calls this ability “the shining.” He tells Danny that, if ever he is in trouble, he should use the shining to “holler for Hallorann.”

A few weeks later

The Torrances are enjoying domestic life at the hotel. All seems well, but, Danny feels a strong pull to room 217, an urge he tries to resist. One night, Jack and Wendy realize Danny is locked in the bathroom. Jack breaks down the door and finds Danny comatose. Jack shakes Danny violently. Wendy begs Jack to stop, reminding him that he has hurt Danny before. Jack loses his temper. Finally, Danny revives slightly, uttering the mysterious words “redrum” before his parents get him to bed.

Remorseful over his loss of temper, Jack retreats to the hotel lobby where the shadow of his late, abusive father, Mark Torrance, haunts Jack.

The next day, Jack discovers a scrapbook about the hotel’s history. As he reads, ghosts from The Overlook’s past appear, including mafia hitmen, the murderous caretaker and his deceased daughters, and a flurry of guests from a wild masked ball. Inspired, Jack decides to write a book about The Overlook’s sordid history.

Later that day, Danny succumbs to the draw of room 217 where he discovers the living corpse of Mrs. Massey resting in the bathtub. The ghoul attacks Danny, leaving the boy soaked, with bruises on his neck, and lipstick smeared on his face. Discovering Danny in this state, Jack and Wendy frantically try to decide what to do. Wendy wants to leave the hotel, but Jack fears they will die in the approaching snowstorm if they try to escape. Jack asserts his role as provider and protector of his family even as a chorus of ghosts urge him to harm Danny and Wendy. The cacophony of voices grows until, finally, Danny calls out for Hallorann to come help!

Act Two – A day in December at The Overlook Hotel

A disheveled Jack tends to the boiler of The Overlook Hotel and longs for alcohol. The specter of Delbert Grady appears. Grady instructs Jack to “correct,” meaning “kill,” Wendy and Danny in order to please “The Manager,” the evil spirit of the hotel.

Meanwhile, Wendy tries to comfort Danny in the kitchen. 

Jack wanders the hotel, mentally unhinged, and finds himself in the midst of a roaring party of ghosts, starring his deceased father as the main entertainer. After the ghosts disappear, Jack lashes out at Wendy, fully convinced she is an enemy he must destroy. Jack tries to strangle Wendy, but she knocks him out. Together, Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the kitchen where they lock him inside of the pantry. As they leave, Wendy takes a knife from the kitchen, ready to defend herself and her son, if necessary.

Grady’s ghost helps Jack escape from the pantry, leaving him a large croquet mallet to bludgeon Wendy and Danny.

Thinking Jack is still in the pantry, Wendy and Danny distract themselves with games. Finally, Wendy ventures to the kitchen to get dinner. As she enters the lobby, Jack attacks her with the mallet. Wendy dodges his blows and stabs him before running to her room and locking the door. There, Wendy discovers that Danny has gone. Jack uses the croquet mallet to smash through the bedroom door, but, when he reaches through to unlock it, Wendy slices his hand with a razor. Before Jack can retaliate, Grady appears and instructs Jack to find Danny. Just then, Hallorann arrives to save Danny, but Jack knocks him down before going after Danny. Refusing to cower, Danny sings the melody Jack had sung to him earlier, a song about how much his father loves him. Jack collapses in shame and screams for Danny to run. Danny reaches his mother and Hallorann and warns them that the boiler is about to explode. The three of them run to escape the explosion. The ghosts of the hotel order Jack to loosen the boiler valves and relieve the pressure. Jack refuses and lets the boiler explode, destroying himself and the hotel in order to save his family.

The opera ends with Wendy and Danny recovering at a summer cabin months later. Hallorann watches over them while Danny fishes. Before saying goodbye, Hallorann tells Danny to be strong and keep hoping. Danny asks him for help, and Hallorann replies, “You’re doing fine by yourself, little man.”

This synopsis was written by Bethany Wood, Opera Colorado’s Manager of Education & Community Engagement. Dr. Wood holds a B.F.A. in Drama from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of several articles on theatre history, as well as the book Women Adapting: Bringing Three Serials of the Roaring Twenties to Stage and Screen, winner of the Choice Outstanding Academic Title Prize from the American Library Association.


Now that you are an expert on The Shining, you should experience the production live and in person! Tickets to Opera Colorado’s production The Shining are available now for February and March of 2022. Buy Tickets>>


Are you looking forward to this new production of The Shining? Have you read the book or watched one of the movie adaptations? What else do you want to learn about the opera? Let us know in the comments below!


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