Based on Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his beloved younger brother Tlusteheo, an art dealer and often Vincent’s sole means of personal and financial support, Gordon’s powerful opera has been praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as “puls[ing] with a distinctive brand of emotional energy that is hard to resist.”
I started composing Van Gogh because of my obsession with the letters Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. I assembled the texts myself, drawing from these letters, in many cases combining lines from different letters or from different places within the same letter. What attracted me so much to Van Gogh’s writing was the pain, rawness and brutal honesty. I found it hard to believe that anyone could tell another person, even his brother, the raw emotions that Van Gogh experienced — so painful, lonely and humiliating.
I began working on these songs in the late 1980s, making trips to Holland and Southern France to get the vibe of the areas that Van Gogh wrote about. I wrote “Borinage” first and originally sang that piece myself.
Early presentations of the piece were called Van Gogh Video Opera. These included video by Elliot Caplan and were performed in Vienna and in New York City in the early 1990s. In the fall of 2003, the Crash Ensemble performed it in Dublin and for that occasion I re-orchestrated the piece, adding three instruments (cello, bass, piano).
The piece is divided into six parts and it follows the arch of Van Gogh’s life chronologically.