What had been a noteworthy residency at the University of Texas' Butler School of Music ended sadly on Saturday, April 9, when composer Daniel Catán passed away in his sleep here in Austin. He had celebrated his 62nd birthday just the Sunday before. Catán, who lived in South Pasadena, Calif., and taught composition at the College of the Canyons, had been at the Butler School for the spring semester serving as its composer-in-residence. He saw the Butler Opera Theatre premiere a new chamber version of his first opera, La Hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini's Daughter), and was hard at work on his operatic adaptation of the Frank Capra film Meet John Doe, which was commissioned by the Butler School and scheduled to premiere in October 2012. On Friday, the composer had attended an event held by La Noche de Opera, a Hispanic support group for Austin Lyric Opera, and was expected on Saturday at the University of Houston, where the school's Moores Opera Center was producing his opera Il Postino, based on the 1994 film. When Catán failed to appear for the performance and did not check into his hotel, his wife, Andrea, contacted the university. Catán was found in his Austin apartment.
Meet John Doe would have been the composer's fifth opera. The Mexico City native obtained his first degree in philosophy from the University of Sussex, England, but while he was there, Catán appeared as a supernumary in a few productions and was won over by music. Before long, he was studying at Princeton University with Milton Babbitt and spent six years in the late Eighties as music administrator at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts. He created La Hija de Rappaccini in 1991, basing it on the Octavio Paz play drawn from a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, and when it was performed by San Diego Opera three years later, Catán became the first Mexican composer to have an opera produced in the United States. That success prompted the Houston Grand Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, and the Seattle Opera to co-commission Florencia en el Amazonas, an opera drawn from Gabriel García Márquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera and the first Spanish-language opera ever commissioned by major U.S. opera companies. That was followed by the Houston Grand Opera's commission of Salsipuedes, A Tale of Love, War and Anchovies in 2004 and the L.A. Opera's commission of Il Postino, which it premiered in 2010 with Plácido Domingo as the poet Pablo Neruda. To secure the rights for this last work, which were divided among the five brothers of the film's star, Massimo Troisi, Catán flew to Italy and visited with each brother personally. It's a shame the world will never hear what his lyrical voice would have done with Meet John Doe. His passing is a great loss to all who love music. Catán is survived by his mother, Luisa Porteny; two brothers, Luis and Jaime; his wife Andrea Puente, a professional harpist; children Chloe, Tom, and Alan; and four grandchildren.