opera in two acts

Act 1 in 7 scenes - approximately 1 hour and five minutes duration.
Act 2 in 6 scenes - approximately 45 minutes duration.
*ballet/dance troupe is required for Act 2 Scene 1a - Dance at Arles.
*Button Accordion is required in Act 1 Scene 7

Libretto (EN) by J.D. McClatchy

3 Flutes (3rd x alto & piccolo); 2 Oboes; 3 Clarinets (3rd x bass clarinet); 2 Bassoons.
4 Horns; 3 Trumpets; 2 Tenor Trombones; 1 Bass Trombone; 1 Tuba.
1 Harp; Celeste; Piano. (The Celeste & Piano each require a player.)
2 Percussion.

Commissioned by the Indiana University School of Music and Opera Department

First Performance: April 8, 2011 - Indiana University Jacobs School of Music - Conductor: Arthur Fagen - Bloomington, Indiana


Dreamy, fragmentary, and muted in its passion, Rands' score is sensitive, evocative, and enduring, resulting in a magical experience of music, drama, spectacle, providing a glimpse of where opera is headed in the new millennium. If opera is to continue, and I have no doubt that it will, we have, in Vincent, a shining model to follow.


Bernard Rands discusses the composition of Vincent

Librettist J.D. McClatchy discusses his role as the librettist for Vincent

Interview with cast and production staff of Indiana University's premiere production of Vincent

Program Note

Based on an original libretto by American poet J.D.McClatchy (which draws on the letters of van Gogh) this two-act opera is a succession of "tableaux" each placing Vincent in contexts which were his real experiences thus revealing his complex character - that of genius artist, religious fanatic, alcoholic, epileptic, unstable of temperament resulting in behavior ranging unpredictably between kindly affability and violent aggression. The scenes suggest a more-or-less chronological outline of his late years; a transition from the “dark” environment of his early years, full of positive enthusiasms amid the dark surroundings, to the darkening of his inner light amid the brightness of the South. This narrative suggests a process of alienation and the degradation and diminishing of the human spirit culminating in madness and suicide.


Act I

Scene 1 - Arles, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh is writing a letter to his brother, Theo, in Paris.

Scene 1A - Van Gogh's family home- The Netherlands, 1870

Theo convinces their father, Theodorus, a Protestant pastor, to allow Vincent to pursue a career in art.

Scene 2 - Paris, 1875

The scene opens in the Goupil Art Gallery in Paris in 1875, when Vincent is 22 years old. The gallery director, Vincent's Uncle Cent, is speaking with the young Van Gogh, whom he has hired as a favor to his father and is encouraging him to learn the business of art so that he can become a success. Vincent is still highly religious and passionate about God and art. A couple stops in front of a painting and the director sends Vincent to try and close the sale. But as he interacts with them and other prospective buyers, Vincent is disgusted at the superficiality of the patrons. Unable to contain himself, he confronts a lady patron and challenges her, thus highly offending her. Uncle Cent and Vincent determine that the gallery is not the place for him.

Scene 3 - Belgium, 1878

Vincent is now at the Borinage, where he has gone as a missionary to preach. The scene opens at a pit-head of the mine. The mine underground has collapsed, trapping several miners. The atmosphere is grim as friends and families anxiously gather around the pit-head. As the miners begin to see their rescue attempt as futile, Vincent begins to preach, leading the crowd in a rousing hymn of praise. As he continues to preach, he begins to stutter, becomes disoriented and collapses.

Scene 4- Belgium- A missionary church in the Borinage, 1878

Theo arrives in search of Vincent and is astounded at the beauty of the paintings Vincent has laying around. Again, Theo asks Vincent why he is “wasting his time” here when he can be using his great talent to paint. Vincent responds that nothing is any use unless we bring the word of God to His people. He asserts that he belongs here, doing what he is doing. Theo tells Vincent that their father and mother are here. Theodorus Van Gogh has been asked by the Elders of the Evangelical Society to come and hear Vincent preach. Theodorus tells him that his work at the Borinage has been met by the elders with disfavor. Vincent is stunned and argues that there has been a preacher in every generation of the family, and he wants to humbly follow in this father's footsteps. He rushes to the pulpit and begins preaching. He breaks down in tears and his father is forced to tell him that he is not missionary stock. Vincent is left to muse on what he perceives as his father's abandonment.

Scene 5 - The Hague, 1882

Vincent is living in a shabby studio. His brother, Theo, comes to tell Vincent that he is going to marry. He also brings him painting supplies, which Vincent desperately needs. Vincent seems happy, saying he is free “ to paint the shapes of God.” Sien, pregnant and haggard enters with her child. She slaps some coins on the table. Vincent confesses that neither child is his, but that he is going marry Sien. Theo, confused, leaves. After some bickering between them, Vincent poses Sien and begins sketching her. Theo returns and vehemently opposes Vincent's marriage to Sien and an argument ensues. Sien states she does not want to come between then, nor does she want to be saved. Theo leaves angrily. Sien tells Vincent she does not need him, repeating the theme, “ no one needs you” and leaving Vincent once again to muse on his perceived abandonment by someone he loves.

Scene 6 - Neunen, 1885

Vincent is alone at his easel. He is creating furiously and with great intensity, all the while murmuring to himself that he is doing the work of God, using the colors of God's canvass. He is creating the picture known as “ The Potato Eaters”.

Scene 7 – Paris, 1887

Vincent and Theo are at the Cafe Le Tambourin, a lively artists' bar in the Montmartre. Its patroness, Agostina Segatori, with whom Vincent has been having an affair, presides over the raucous scene of singing and carousing. Henri de Tolouse Lautrec introduces Paul Gauguin as the “ future of painting.” This announcement is met with bawdy remarks from the patrons. Lautrec then asks for Agostina to sing them a song during which she teases Vincent and flirts with Gauguin. The patrons become more and more drunk. But Vincent and Gauguin connect and Vincent invites Gauguin to come with him to paint in Arles. They both leave the Café arm in arm as the act comes to an end.

Act II

Scene 1 - Arles, 1888

The scene opens in the famous yellow house in Arles, where Vincent has been living and painting. Gauguin arrives, suitcase in hand. Vincent is elated and leads Gauguin to his room full of plans for the future. He then takes Gauguin to the village Café, which is overflowing with patrons and prostitutes.

Scene 2 - Arles, 1888

It is morning. Gauguin is waking up after an evening spent with a prostitute. Vincent is already awake and working. Gauguin comes down stairs with his suitcase and announces to Vincent that he is leaving. When Vincent pursues the reason for this, Gauguin admits that it is because he is tired of being lectured by Vincent. Vincent is mystified. Gauguin tries to explain how he feels about painting. He accuses Vincent of painting everything violent and pure, with no gradation. “That is not painting, Vincent” he says, “It's just paint.” It becomes obvious that neither man understand each other. Gauguin leaves with the prostitute. Vincent is once again in despair at his abandonment by Gauguin. In desperation, he takes a razor and cuts his ear.

Scene 3 - Saint Remy, 1889 - The courtyard of the asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole

Theo enters and sits on a bench where he is joined by Dr. Payron. The doctor informs Theo that Vincent is recovering and will be glad to see him. He cautions Theo that Vincent's unpredictable episodes of epilepsy can still cause him terrible outbreaks, but that he seems calmer and is starting to paint again. Vincent enters, and brightens when he sees Theo. They are left alone, and Vincent confesses to Theo that his mind is not right. He tells Vincent that he and Johanna are having a baby and if it is a boy they will call him Vincent. Theo leaves and Vincent sets his easel and starts painting. As soon he begins, one of his seizures comes upon him and he begins to eat paint and smear it on his face.

Scene 4 - Auvers, 1890 - The house of Dr. Gachet

Dr. Gachet is in his salon, posing for the portrait which Vincent is painting of him. An easel with the almost completed picture is near-by. Dr. Gachet's daughter, Marguerite, enters with tea for her father. They begin an argument about Vincent staying in their home. She tells her father that Vincent is ill and needs to be in a hospital, away from painting, which only upsets him. Vincent comes in, overhears the conversation, and offers to leave. Dr. Gachet will not have it. Vincent gratefully thanks Dr. Gachet for believing in him. He now understands his illness and knows the attacks will return, but painting helps him. Vincent also attempts to share his feelings of love for Marguerite, who rejects him. As he talks with Dr. Gachet about his paintings, he becomes more animated and accidentally knocks over the cup of tea. Vincent becomes very upset and rushes out of the room saying that he should not be there.

Scene 5 - Auvers sur Oise, France, 1890

A field Vincent is wandering in the field, knowing that another attach is coming on. He realizes that everyone he knows has someone except himself. He feels that he is a burden on all who know him. Making the decision that he will no longer be a burden to anyone, he takes out a pistol and shoots himself in the chest.

Scene 6 - Auvers sur Oise, two days later

A room Vincent lies dying. With him, as always, is his brother Theo. Vincent talks of Theo and his son, and how he used his paintings to show his gratitude. With Theo at his side, Vincent dies, remembered alone for his art.