The Magic of Mexican Composer Daniel Catán

The Magic of Mexican Composer Daniel Catán
Elizabeth Beristain/G.Schirmer

Mexican composer Daniel Catán died suddenly last weekend. The 62-year-old Catán had a special relationship with Houston, working closely with the Houston Grand Opera and the UH's Moores School of Music over the last few years.

HGO Music Director Patrick Summers spoke to us about the loss of Catán, its effect on the HGO family and the opera world in general. "Daniel was a vital force in our little world. And it's been very, very sad for us," Summers says. "There's the sadness of the shock - and the shock of the sadness - but there's also a great deal of joy in remembering Daniel."

Summer first worked with Catán in 1996 when HGO co-commissioned and premiered his opera Florencia en el Amazonas, a co-production with the Los Angeles Opera that was inspired by works of author Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The production, the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by major American companies, made opera history.

"That he was attracted to a work about transformation was always so moving to me," says Summers, "because I think he really did, as a man, believe in the transforming power of music. He had a real faith in art.

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"He was just a unique compositional voice. He had this very, very special quality that only a very few gifted artists have and it's a quality that I can only describe as an incredible childlike innocence when practicing his art. When he was talking about music, he suddenly just transformed before you into a ten-year-old on Christmas morning."

HGO later commissioned his third opera, Slasipuedes, A Tale of Love, War and Anchovies. While HGO did not have a hand in Catán's Il Postino, there were certain to be future commissions with Catán. "I was expecting us to work together for all the rest of our lives," says Summers. "I really loved Daniel."

The Moores School of Music launched the Daniel Catán Project in 2009, a program dedicated to mounting one of Catán's operas every two years using a mostly student cast. Catán was scheduled to attend a performance of his opera Il Postino at the University of Houston on the day he died.

Below is an interview with Daniel Catán.

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