Daniel Catán

1949 - 2011



Daniel Catán, whose sudden death in April 2011 shocked the opera world, composed in a lyrical, romantic style that lends itself particularly well to the human voice, which features in the majority of his works. Lush orchestrations reminiscent of Debussy and Strauss along with Latin American instruments and rhythms are regularly heard in his music. His opera Florencia en el Amazonas has the distinction of being the first opera in Spanish commissioned by a major American company. The success of this opera led to the commission of Salsipuedes for Houston Grand Opera. His fourth opera, Il Postino, was commissioned by Los Angeles Opera and premiered in Los Angeles, Vienna and Paris in 2011 featuring Plácido Domingo. At the time of his death, Catán was at work on his next opera, Meet John Doe. Born in Mexico, Catán studied philosophy at the University of Sussex in England before enrolling in Princeton as a PhD student in composition under the tuition of Milton Babbitt, James Randall and Benjamin Boretz. His music is published by Associated Music Publishers.


Daniel Catán, whose sudden death in April 2011 shocked the opera world, composed in a lyrical, romantic style that lends itself particularly well to the human voice, which features prominently in the majority of his works. Catán's proficiency can easily be heard in his opera Florencia en el Amazonas — the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by a major American company. Catán described his objective for the opera: "I set out to write beautiful music for a story of the journey to transcendent love; it concerns all of us who have lived love with all its intricacies, subtleties, wretchedness, and glorious happiness.” Catán’s intentions were noble and bold. In the eyes of both the public and the critics — who lauded the work’s honesty, beauty, and sheer devastating dramatic effect — he accomplished his goals. His influences belie his native land: he has been compared to Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Puccini — with a wisp of Japanese influence. Catán attested gladly to his wide spectrum of influences. "I have inherited a very rich operatic tradition,” he said. "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.”

Though Catán was born in Mexico, he was a product of both British and American schooling, receiving degrees from the University of Sussex (in philosophy), University of Southampton, and Princeton University — where he studied with Milton Babbitt — before returning to Mexico to take up the post of music administrator at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. There, apart from establishing himself as an essayist writing about music, he came to love opera. In 1994, the San Diego Opera premiered his symbolist opera, La Hija de Rappacini (Rappaccini’s Daughter), a work written in collaboration with librettist Juan Tovar. The success of La Hija de Rappacini led to Catán’s next opera, Florencia en el Amazonas — a collaboration between Catán, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, and García Márquez's protégée, Marcela Fuentes-Berain. The opera is loosely based on García Marquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Florencia en el Amazonas taps deeply into García Márquez’s world of magical realism. "It is,” said Catán, "the story of the return journey that we all undertake at a certain point in our lives: the moment when we look back at what we once dreamed of becoming, and then confront what we have now become.” Since its premiere in 1996, Florencia has been performed by a number of major American opera companies; the European premiere took place in 2006 in Heidelberg, Germany. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Houston Grand Opera commissioned Catán’s third opera Salsipuedes, A Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies — a dark comedy which takes place on the fictitious island of Salsipuedes and premiered in 2004. The European premiere was seen in Hagen, Germany, in 2008 in a German singing translation. Catán’s fourth opera, I
, based on the Oscar-winning film, and commissioned by Los Angeles Opera, debuted in 2010 in Los Angeles with Plácido Domingo and Charles Castronovo in the leading roles in a production directed by Ron Daniels. In the short time since its premiere, Il Postino has been broadcast nationally on PBS and produced in five different countries. The European premiere followed at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien (December 2010), with subsequent performances at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (June 2011), Palacio de Belles Artes and Festival Cervantino in Mexico City (October 2011), Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile (June 2012), and the University of Houston (April 2011). Madrid’s Teatro Real presents the Spanish premiere in June 2013 with Domingo and Castronovo reprising their leading roles. Sony Classical releases the DVD of LA’s award-winning premiere production in autumn 2012. In May 2012, Center City Opera in Philadelphia premiered a reduced orchestration of Il Postino.

At the time of his death, Catán was at work on his next opera, Meet John Doe. The University of Texas at Austin, which commissioned the opera, also premiered the chamber version of La Hija de Rappaccini in February 2011.

Catán’s non-operatic output is full of equally powerful works: Caribbean Airs for orchestra with a featured role for the percussion section (2007); En un Doblez del Tiempo (A Fold in Time), and an orchestral suite from Florencia; Mariposa Obsidiana, for soprano, chorus and orchestra; and the small but charming Encantimiento, for two flutes. His music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.

— September 2012

For specific inquiries about this composer, please contact Peggy.Monastra@schirmer.com or (212) 254-2100.