The premiere of Vincent, by composer Bernard Rands and librettist J.D. McClatchy, at the IU Opera Theatre, is a dramatic, visual and musical success.
The Libretto And Visuals
Librettist J.D. McClatchy, familiar to IU Opera fans for his libretto for Our Town, has fashioned a series of tableaux that nicely follow the life of Vincent van Gogh. His carefully selected words are delivered with such precision by the whole cast that supertitles were frequently superfluous.
And who would want to waste time looking at supertitles, with the riches of production designer Barry Steele’s visual feast? Van Gogh’s paintings covered the scrim and the walls. They grew in detail as scenes and his craft developed. Sometimes people inhabited the pictures; sometimes the pictures inhabited the people. For opera-goers already familiar with the paintings, there was the pleasure of reinforced dynamic memory. For those unfamiliar, there was the pleasure of discovery.
The Music And Musicians
Bernard Rands is definitely a contemporary composer. In Daniel Bishop’s thoughtful notes, Rands’ music is described as “post tonal.” It’s a more apt term than “atonal” — of the many tones in Rands’ music, most are lushly beautiful, and all both evoke and support the drama. The music touches on severe hymn sounds, affects café songs and even chants, but it always comes from its own perspective.
In Saturday night’s cast IU grad Christopher Burchett was winning in the arduous role of Vincent, with strong singing and acting. Will Perkins was a charmer, both vocally and dramatically, in the sympathetic role of Vincent’s supportive brother Theo. Kelly Kruse was affecting as the bitter prostitute whom Vincent seeks to save.
Steven Linville was like a force of nature as that master of the Paris café scene, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Laura Boone was a good match for him as Agostina Segatori, the cafe’s proprietor. Adam Walton was a bluff, hearty, almost Hemingwayesque figure as van Gogh’s fellow artist Paul Gauguin.
Andrew Morstein sang nicely in the supportive role of the Saint-Remy asylum’s doctor. Jason Eck, Vincent’s stern father, Christopher Grundy, the hospitable Dr. Paul Gachet, and Jami Leonard, the daughter whom Vincent sought, all sang and acted well.
Harmony And Color
Throughout the evening conductor Arthur Fagen moved the production smoothly forward, balancing the colors from stage and pit. Linda Pisano’s costume designs were all dramatically calibrated to fit the characters, the action and to harmonize with the other visual elements.
Vincent Liotta’s staging served this sometimes stark and sometimes busy production very well. The café crowd scenes with Michael Vernon’s choreography were special pleasures.
At the theater for you, I’m George Walker.