Mexican Opera Composer Remembered As Groundbreaker In San Diego

By Jose Luis Jiménez
April 13, 2011

Robert Millard, courtesy LA Opera
Mexcian composer Daniel Catán talks about his latest work "Il Postino" in Los Angeles.
Mexican Opera Composer Daniel Catán’s style has been described as neo-Romantic and he has been compared to some of the greats, including Puccini.

That’s why when the news came down about his death over the weekend, it was deeply felt at San Diego Opera, which Catán credited for helping him achieve international fame.

Catán, who lived in South Pasadena, Calif., was at the University of Texas, Austin working on his latest opera. He never showed for a performance in Houston the past weekend and he was found dead inside his apartment, his family announced on Monday. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

Audiences who saw the premier of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” in San Diego in 1994 saw something that had never been done before: An opera composed by a Mexican performed in the United States.

Catán, who also composed music, lived to see his work performed around the world.

Ian Campbell, the director of San Diego Opera, visited him at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in the early 1990s. Catán was working on “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, which is based on the Octavio Paz play “La Hija de Rappaccini.”

Campbell was so impressed he brought the work to San Diego. It was the first opera by a Mexican composer to be staged in the United States. The work was also done in Canada and Mexico.

“And it actually helped launch Daniel in the United States,” Campbell recalled. “It was really because of that that he received commissions for the other operas he did. And he was always grateful to us because we had had that early confidence in him.”

Although San DIego Opera never performed another of Catán’s works, the composer kept a warm relation with Campbell and others. The director saw him about a year ago during a showing of his latest work “Il Postino” in Los Angeles. He described Catán as looking forward to the future.

“(His death) was extremely unexpected,” Campbell said. “He was such a vibrant man.”