Theo van Gogh meets Gilbert & George in ‘retropera’

The Naked Shit Songs

Huba de Graaff

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‘We believe in democratic pictures. That a child can see them and understand in some level, and a person of ninety.’ This is what Gilbert & George said to Theo van Gogh in 1996. Van Gogh spoke to the artist duo in his legendary programme Een Prettig Gesprek (A Nice Chat) at the time of The Naked Shit Pictures exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. Huba de Graaff, composer of Apera (about the origin of singing) and Pornopera (about the art of moaning), used the interview as libretto. Directed by Marien Jongewaard, actor Xander van Vledder as Theo van Gogh, Nigel Robson and Christopher Robson as Gilbert & George, and a choir sing this ‘retropera’ – about art, sex and religion, Muslims, tolerance, love and death.


Background information

The Naked Shit Songs is about an immense loss. Loss of freedom, loss of a certain era.'


That's how Huba de Graaff describes her 'retropera' The Naked Shit Songs, which will have its world premiere at the Holland Festival. De 

Graaff was inspired by an interview that Theo van Gogh conducted with the controversial British-Italian artist duo Gilbert & George in 1996. De Graaff decided to use the full text of Van Gogh's interview with Gilbert & George as material.

For the composer, the topics discussed in the interview symbolise an era that no longer exists: an era in which art was able to enjoy a high level of freedom. The end of that era coincided with the brutal murder of Van Gogh in 2004. De Graaff divides the text from the interview up into six scenes and a concluding coda. Van Gogh is played by actor Xander van Vledder; the texts of Gilbert & George are spoken and sung by singers (and brothers) Nigel Robson and Christopher Robson and a choir.

Since the late 1960s, Gilbert Prousch (1943) and George Passmore (1942) have been working together on performances and conceptual art. The two artists are known for their photo montages in which they themselves feature – often naked – and which frequently include sperm, blood, urine, vomit or faeces. An example is The Naked Shit Pictures (1994-95), exhibited in the Stedelijk Museum in 1996, from which De Graaff's 'retropera' gets its name.



Huba de Graaff (1959) studied violin at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam, sonology at Utrecht University and composition at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, De Graaff explored the possibility of unlocking new musical

worlds through the use of new, mainly electronic media. An example of this is Corenicken (1991), which makes use of electric violin, percussion and various moving sound sources. In the same year, De Graaff designed the Japon Fuzz, a tin dress filled with electronics that produces sounds in response to the movements of the wearer. Although her compositions have always had a theatrical element, De Graaff has slowly started to shift her focus more towards musical theatre. In Hephaistos (1997) and Lautsprecher Arnolt (2003), the composer works with the principle of the loudspeaker opera, whereby the majority of the characters are rendered by moving loudspeakers. In Lautsprecher Arnolt, De Graaff works with writer/director Erik-Ward Geerlings and designer Bart Visser, with whom she established the musical theatre collective WILco in 2008. She continued working with Geerlings after this collective dissolved in 2015. Besides operas such as De dood van Poppaea (2006) and Diepvlees (2009), De Graaff has also created a series of musical theatre productions that focus on the relationship between speech and song. Following Apera (2012) and Pornopera (2014), the 'retropera' The Naked Shit Songs and the 'synchronopera' Liebesleid will premiere in 2017.



Huba de Graaff
Marien Jongewaard
Erik-Ward Geerlings
Juul Dekker
Bernadette Corstens
sound design
Vid Ahacic
Wiek Hijmans, Tim Sabel, Vasilis Stefanopoulos, Onno Govaert,Kristján Tryggvi Martinsson
Amsterdams Galakoor conducted by Yt Nicolai, reART Wereldmuziekkoor conducted by Selim Doğru
Jasper Hupkens
pre-recorded choir
Nederlands Kamerkoor olv Peter Dijkstra
trio Escapada (Emma Breedveld, Bence Huszar, Sebastiaan van Delft)
Xander van Vledder (Theo van Gogh), Nigel Robson (George, tenor), Cristopher Robson (Gilbert, countertenor)
Nienke Algra
light design
Wilfred Loopstra
performance leader
Janneke Lindner
technical coördinator
Huub Mars
Willem Weemhoff
Geertje Spaan
graphic design
Emmy Visser
Lonneke van Eden / bureau TamTam
managing director
Britt Verstegen
Huba de Graaff, Nieuw West / Marien Jongewaard, Holland Festival
with support by
Fonds Podiumkunsten
after an idea by
Jan Elbertse
intern costumes
Siebe ten Dam

This performance was made possible with support by