The lyrical, romantic style of composer and librettist Daniel Catán (1949-2011) lends itself particularly well to the human voice, which features prominently in the majority of his works.
Born in Mexico, he was a product of both British and American schooling, receiving degrees from University of Sussex (in philosophy), University of Southampton and Princeton University, where he studied with Milton Babbitt. In 1994, the San Diego Opera premiered his opera La Hija de Rappacini, with a libretto by Juan Tovar, based on Octavio Paz’s stage adaptation of the classic short story “Rappacini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The success of La Hija de Rappacini led to his next opera, Florencia en el Amazonas. Loosely based on Gabriel García Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, it was the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by a major American company. Since its premiere in 1996, Florencia has been performed by a number of major American opera companies including LA Opera, where it was presented in 1997, as well as at Seattle Opera and Cincinnati Opera; the European premiere took place in 2006 in Heidelberg, Germany. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Houston Grand Opera commissioned his third opera, Salsipuedes: A Tale of Love, War and Anchovies, a dark comedy that premiered in 2004. The European premiere was seen in Hagen, Germany, in 2008. His fourth opera, Il Postino, for which Mr. Catán wrote his own libretto, was commissioned by LA Opera and had its world premiere in 2010. Subsequent performances of Il Postino have taken place at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna; the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris; the Teatro Municipal in Santiage, Chile; the Opera Bellas Arts in Mexico City; and at the Teatro Real in Madrid.
Daniel Catán’s non-operatic output is full of equally powerful works: Caribbean Airs for orchestra with a featured role for the percussion section; En un Doblez del Tiempo (A Fold in Time) and an orchestral suite from Florencia; Mariposa Obsidiana for soprano, chorus and orchestra; Cantata, a setting of a text from St. John of the Cross; the ballet score Ausencia de Flores; and the small but charming Encantimiento, for two flutes.
Mr. Catán resided in Los Angeles and taught music at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, which hosted a workshop performance at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center of his chamber orchestration for La Hija de Rappaccini in 2009. In April, he visited the University of Houston for the Moores Opera Center’s production of Il Postino, working with students during rehearsals as he had for the Center’s 2009 staging of Florencia. That production launched the Center’s “Daniel Catán Project,” with productions of his works planned every other year. At the time of his death, he was in Austin, teaching and working on Meet John Doe, a new opera commissioned by the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.