11 April 2011

Daniel Catán, 62, Composer of Il Postino and Florencia en el Amazonas, Has Died

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Acclaimed composer Daniel Catán, whose operatic adaptation of Il Postino had its world premiere at Los Angeles Opera in September, has died. Catán, who was 62, died in Austin, Texas, where he was teaching at the University of Texas's Butler School of Music. The cause of death is still to be determined. 

Catán, who was born in Mexico City to a family of Sephardic-Jewish and Russian descent, studied Philosophy at the University of Sussex before enrolling in Princeton as a PhD student in composition, where he studied under Milton Babbitt, James Randall and Benjamin Boretz. Catán went on to forge a finely crafted, highly lyrical, neo-Romantic style with a distinctive lushness that seemed of a piece with the twentieth century's great movie music yet remained unquestionably operatic in scope. 

"I have inherited a very rich operatic tradition," Catán was quoted as saying. "In my work, I am proud to say, one can detect the enormous debt I owe to composers from Monteverdi to Alban Berg. But perhaps the greatest of my debts is having learnt that the originality of an opera need not involve the rejection of our tradition — which would be like blindly embracing the condition of an orphan — but rather the profound assimilation of it, so as to achieve the closest union between a text and its music."

Catán's first opera, a chamber work entitled Encuentro en el Ocaso, which featured a libretto by Mexican novelist Carlos Montemayor, had its premiere at Mexico's Teatro de la Ciudad in 1980. His next opera, La Hija de Rappaccini, based on the play by Octavio Paz and the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, premiered in 1991 at San Diego Opera and, with its premiere, made Catán the first Mexican composer to have an opera produced in the United States. Florencia en el Amazonas, the composer's next work and the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major American opera houses, premiered at Houston Grand Opera on October 25, 1996 and is preserved in a live recording issued by Albany records. Florencia went on to subsequent presentations at co-commissioners Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera. The opera was warmly received at each of its runs, and, in 2004, Catán's next work for the stage, Salsipuedes, a Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies, had its premiere in Houston. 

Catán's adaptation of the Antonio's Skármeta novel Il Postino had its world premiere at Los Angeles Opera on September 23, 2010, and featured Plácido Domingo in the role of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruoppolo. Il Postino had its European premiere at Vienna's Theater an der Wien in December 2010 and is scheduled to play at Paris's Théâtre du Châtelet in June of this year. At the time of his death, Catán was at work on a chamber version of La Hija de Rappaccini as well as his fifth opera, Meet John Doe — based on the 1941 Frank Capra comic-drama — which was slated for an October 2012 premiere.  

Catán, who became an American citizen, lived in Pasadena, California, where he served on the faculty of College of the Canyons. He is survived by his wife, Andrea Puente, three children and four grandchildren. spacer 

More information can be found in the OPERA NEWS Archives — here, here and here — and at G. Schirmer.

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