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date: 02 July 2020


  • Jochen Schönleber


Opera in ten scenes by Rainer Kunad to his own libretto after Alfred Matusche’s play Van Gogh; Dresden, Staatsoper, 22 February 1979.

The opera depicts key scenes from the last two years of Van Gogh’s life, leading to his suicide. It is not, however, intended as a musically illustrated biography; instead, the subject is the relationship between society and an individual who is not without some responsibility for his own downfall. On his way through life Vincent (baritone) encounters his (fictitious) lover Jacky (soprano), a drop-out with a lust for life, his fellow-painter Gauguin (bass), his brother Theo (tenor) and Dr Gachet (baritone). He meets with a mainly hostile reception from various briefly characterized figures of Arles society, who join in a nightmare chorus in passacaglia rhythm in the central sixth scene, driving Vincent into the lunatic asylum. In contrast to Berg’s Wozzeck, which Vincent resembles in many ways despite occasional linguistic weaknesses, Kunad avoids large-scale musical forms and attempts, with the aid of serial technique, to let ‘things themselves’ speak, though without resorting to musical illustration. The music is organized around three suggestive sound patterns, employed in the manner of leitmotifs; these are easily perceived by the hearer, as is the basic series forming the tonal centres of the work, which is strictly dodecaphonic in structure. Despite being written for a small, almost conventional orchestral ensemble, with notably sparing use of special effects, the opera makes a strong impression; first staged in a sensational production by Harry Kupfer, it had been given nine productions in German-speaking countries by ...

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