I happened to be in Amsterdam playing concerts when the then new van Gogh museum opened, and so was one of the first in the building as soon as it was open to the general public. Though I was familiar with much of his work from visits to many museums in Europe, I was overwhelmed by the Amsterdam experience. In particular, the top floor exhibited all his drawings in pencil, charcoal, gouache etc., and I thought "maybe one day I will make an opera about this man!" That was early 1970, and the subsequent 40 years have been spent reading, reseaching, sketching (Le Tambourin Suites 1 & 2 beautifully recorded by Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra incidentally), hoping... to find the right librettist, the right opportunity... Then, three years ago, the dean of Indiana University contacted me (knowing of my long-standing interest in the subject for an opera) offering me a wonderful commission to make it for their 100th anniversary.

The Work

I have been very fortunate to have as librettist J.D.McClatchy - a terrific poet and experienced librettist, and we have had a wonderful collaboration. Much if the libretto is based on, and culled from, van Gogh's voluminous letters.


Although much of the detail of his life in general is represented (he was a genius, a religious fanatic, an epileptic, an alcoholic with a short-fuse temper) it mainly deals with the late years - his attempt to work in his uncle's gallery as a "salesman" (a failure); his attempt to placate his father's wishes by becoming a missionary in the coal-mining community in the Borinage (a failure); his desire to be a family man by living with Sien, a prostitute, and her child (a failure); and finally meeting Gauguin in the Cafe Le Tambourin and leaving to go to "the south." - end of act 1.

Act 2 finds van Gogh in the Yellow House preparing for Gaugin's arrival - he comes, stays, they work together for a while and then have a vicious falling out - Gauguin leaves (another failure) and from then on is the rapid decline of physical and mental health leading to "the ear" episode, the sanatorium, the suicide attempt (almost a failure!) and his death with Theo, his brother, at his bedside.


I think it is going to be quite a marvelous production and through the magic of contemporary theater technology, quite a spectacle of color and van Gogh's work

Although we are dealing with young voices (except for the two Vincents) I have auditioned all and am satisfied they can meet the challenges of the work.