The Operatic Legacy of Daniel Catán

The Operatic Legacy of Daniel Catán
Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Grand Opera

Remembered as warm, vibrant, and intense by the people who knew him best, Daniel Catán (1949-2011) wrote music that reflected his intellectual vigor and generosity of spirit. His unexpected death in 2011 undoubtedly robbed the opera world of great works he had yet to write, but his legacy lives on in the pieces he left behind; all enduring staples of the canon. Here, those who knew and loved him share their memories of his life and music. 

In Their Words

Daniel and I immediately recognized in each other a kindred spirit - a musical soul brother and friend. He had a special sparkle and twinkle in his eye - like he always had a great secret that he just might share. His passion and enthusiasm - zest for life - his joy for music and for storytelling - were essential to his nature. His music reflects that. It is deeply felt, incredibly smart, filled with ideas and surprises, willing to take risks, and - like Daniel - unendingly generous. The power of his work resonates, vibrates and inspires me deeply. I miss him - but just a few notes and he is there: clear, radiant and ready to take charge. – Jake Heggie, Composer

I first met Daniel when Houston Grand Opera was reading operas of ours—Daniel’s Salsipuedes, and my Lysistrata—and we went out for a drink afterwards. What I marveled at in his personality could apply to his music as well: he evinced a warmth, an elegance, and above all a graciousness that seemed to belong to an earlier, more civilized era. I don’t think either he or his beautifully crafted scores would have been unwelcome in Proust’s drawing room. – Mark Adamo, Composer

Florencia en el Amazonas is a work I am grateful to have been a part of from the inception when it was commissioned by David Gockley for the Houston Grand Opera in the mid ‘90s. When I first met Daniel Catán, I could feel he was a composer full of passion and a burning life spirit. He cast a theatrical spell over me as he described how he wanted to create a unique musical and dramatic opera that would match the magical realism writing style of Gabriel García Márquez. He said he was searching how to find the musical language that could possibly parallel the poetry of Márquez. I believe he captured it with his sound world in this opera. – Francesca Zambello, Artistic & General Director of The Glimmerglass Festival, Artistic Director of The Washington National Opera

I regret very much that I never got the opportunity to meet Daniel Catán despite urgings from friends and colleagues for years. I knew him through his Florencia opera, with its astonishingly lush sonic landscape, and think that the extracted orchestra suite is one of the more successful suites ever created; the epic Márquez story comes brilliantly to life in this compact iteration. – Gabriela Lena Frank, Composer

It was a great joy and privilege in my personal and professional life to have known and worked with Daniel Catán. He had the ability to inspire thousands of listeners at a time with his lush musical scores and his passionate advocacy for operas in his native language of Spanish. Simultaneously, with his open heart, generous spirit, and keen intellect, he could make you feel as if you were the only person in the room. The continued presence of his music on stages around the world pays tribute to his ongoing musical impact and legacy. May it continue. – Peggy Monastra, Senior Promotion Advisor in Opera, G. Schirmer

Explore the Operas

La Hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini's Daughter) (1983)
Libretto by Juan Tovar, based on the play by Octavio Paz and the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Catán's Chamber Opera setting of Rappaccini's Daughter is based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne story and retold by Mexican Nobel Prize-winning author Octavio Paz. Set during the Italian Renaissance, Rappaccini's Daughter is a multi-layered story that deals not only with the scientific struggle of good and evil, but also with the blurring gray lines created as both good and evil merge.

Listen on Spotify

View the Score

Florencia en el Amazonas (1996)
Libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain

Drawing inspiration from the magical realism of the novels of Gabriel García Márquez, Florencia en el Amazonas tells the story of the legendary but deeply private opera singer Florencia Grimaldi as she travels by steamboat down the Amazon River in the early 1900s.

Listen on Spotify

Watch on YouTube


View the Score

Salsipuedes, A Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies (2004)
Libretto by Eliseo Alberto and Francisco Hinojosa

Set on the fictional island of Salsipuedes in 1943, the island’s one-boat navy gears up to take on the Nazis. The males of two newly-married couples are mistakenly taken aboard the ship, to the consternation of their wives. The story that unfolds is about love, trust, tragedy, sacrifice and new beginnings.

Watch on YouTube

View the Score


Il Postino (2010)
Libretto by the composer, based on the novel by Antonio Skármeta, and the film by Michael Radford

On a small Italian island in the 1950s, a young postman befriends famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Watch on YouTube


View the Score

Meet John Doe (2011) 
Libretto by the composer, based on the film script by Robert Riskin

Catán was working on Meet John Doe, his first opera in English, at the time of his passing. Based on the 1941 Frank Capra film of the same name, it tells the story of a "grassroots" political campaign created unwittingly by a newspaper columnist and pursued by a wealthy businessman. A full piano/vocal score was completed thanks to funding by Cincinnati Opera and Gotham Chamber Opera. 

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(April 2021)