Bernard Rands may be one of the most patient operatic composers of all time. From initial idea to first production, Vincent, his opera about Vincent van Gogh, unfolded over a period of four decades, finally reaching its world premiere in 2011 as part of the Indiana University Department of Music’s 100th anniversary. The Indiana forces can be heard on this fine recording, captured live during the two inaugural performances.
Rands, a composer of keen imagination and instincts, reveals another side of his multihued creativity in Vincent, which depicts numerous challenging moments in the artist’s life and career, including his many rejections, aborted relationships and descent into self-mutilation and death. Set to a taut libretto by JD McClatchy, the opera teems with colourful incident, both in intimate and grand theatrical terms.
As ever, Rands finds novel ways to go under his subject’s skin. Some of the music will be familiar to listeners who have heard Le tambourin, his two suites based on Van Gogh paintings that received their premieres in 1984 – and subsequent recording on New World Records – by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti. If Vincent is more powerful in orchestral than vocal terms, the angst and occasional joys that Van Gogh experienced are captured in a series of vivid, eloquent episodes.
Baritone Christopher Burchett makes a potent Vincent and tenor Will Perkins is warmly sympathetic as his brother, Theo. The Indiana performance, conducted by Arthur Fagen, brims with telling detail and vibrancy.