By Robert D. Thomas
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
NOTE: This post has been amended to include a quote from Charles Castronovo at the end and a link to the LA Opera Web site.
Daniel Catn, the most significant Mexican-American
classical music composer of the last 25 years, died unexpectedly Saturday in
Austin, TX at the age of 62. Catn, who lived in South Pasadena, was best known
for his opera Il Postino, which was
premiered last September to great acclaim and sold-out audiences at Los Angeles
Il Postino starred Placido Domingo as
Pablo Neruda and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruppolo (The Postman of the
title). In my review (LINK), I called the work “a stunning new opera … one of those
all-too-rare nights when every individual element melded marvelously… a
performance that reminded us that opera — at its best — can touch emotions and
tell stories like no other medium.” Many other critics were equally laudatory
in their reviews. (LINK)
Il Postino went on
to performances in Vienna and will be presented at the Theatre du Chtelet in
Paris on June 20. Another production was mounted last week by the University of
Houston’s Moores Opera Center.
Catn’s death is obviously a tragedy for his family and friends
(he is survived by his wife Andrea Puente, three children Chloe, Tom, and Alan,
and four grandchildren). However, it’s also a great loss for all who love opera
and particularly those in Southern California, with its large and growing
Latino population. Part of what made Il
Postino distinctive was that it was written in Spanish.
Although Catn’s lyrical style was likened to Puccini — most
notably in Il Postino — what made Catn
unique was his ability to infuse his works with a Mexican flavor without being
too obvious about it (Catn was born in Mexico City and later became a U.S.
When San Diego Opera produced his Rappacini’s Daughter in 1994, Catn became the first Mexican
composer to have an opera produced in the U.S. Two years later, Houston Grand
Opera commissioned Florencia en el
Amazonas, which was subsequently produced by LA Opera. It was the first
opera written in Spanish underwritten by a major opera company.
Catn was also notable for creating in Il Postino an opera that was as memorable as its sources: the 1985
novella Ardiente Pacienca (Burning
Patience) by Antonio Skrmeta and the Academy-award-winning 1994 film, Il Postino (The Postman), by Michael
Radford. Few operas, or motion pictures, for that matter, are able to translate
its source material as well as did Catn in Il
Postino. In the process Catn created something that was, on the one hand,
familiar and, on the other, totally different.
Catn had recently written a new chamber version of his
first opera (now called La Hija de
Rappaccini) and was currently at work on his fifth opera, Meet John Doe, which was due to premiere
in October 2012.
Catn studied philosophy at the University of Sussex in
England before enrolling at Princeton University as a PhD student in composition.
Following his studies he served as music administrator at Mexico City’s Palace
of Fine Arts (1983-89). Catn was also a writer on music and the arts. His
honors include the Plcido Domingo Award in 1998 for his contribution to opera
and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000.
Catn was on leave from his position on the faculty of
College of the Canyons in Valencia when he died. The Los Angeles Times is reporting (LINK) that the composer died in
his sleep in his apartment in Austin, and no foul play is suspected, according
to a spokeswoman for the university. The composer’s representative said that he
wasn’t suffering from any known illnesses.
Marc Stern, chairman of LA Opera, issued the following
statement: “On behalf of Plcido Domingo and the entire company, we are shocked
and grief-stricken at this terrible loss. (since it is the middle of the night
in Japan at present, Plcido is not yet aware of this heartbreaking news; I
know he will be devastated). All of us at LA Opera were truly fortunate to have
worked very closely with Daniel as he prepared “Il Postino” for its world premiere in
Los Angeles last year … and Daniel became a beloved and respected member of the
LA Opera family in recent seasons.
“The incredible success of Il Postino should have marked the beginning of a new era of
artistic achievement for him,” continued Stern. “He was unquestionably one of
the most important opera composers of our time as well as one of the most
popular, and his sudden passing is a terrible loss to the world of classical
music. I know that his operas will continue to move audiences with their beauty
and emotional power. We send our deepest, heartfelt sympathies to his wife and
family on their terrible, sudden loss.”
From Rome, where he is performing, Castronovo wrote: “It was a rare opportunity to be able to create the role of Mario in Il Postino with Daniel Catan. His wonderful music was only one view into a man that was so warm, giving and accepting all at the same time. He made me feel that I was part of his musical process, putting my own personality and musical instincts into a piece of art that he dreamt up with all his love. It was a great honor to know him and create music with him. I know future performances of Il Postino will be full of all the casts love and respect for this wonderful man.”
Click HERE for the LA Opera Web site information on Catn.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.