Sunday, November 18, 2012

Catan's Il Postino on Itinerarios

Daniel Catan, March 2011
I first met Daniel Catan in 1982 when I was called on to play a new piece he had written, a pastorela, or Christmas play. I can't even recall the name, nor could Daniel when I mentioned it to him years later.

"Very nice piece," I told him, and it was. There was considerable craft, in the style on that day of Stravinsky.

"Oh, I don't write that way any more," replied Daniel.

I talked on about how much I had enjoyed playing his music, hoping to reinvigorate that stage music from so many years ago.

"Maybe I will revisit the score," conceded Daniel, but somehow I knew he was unlikely to do so. He had too many projects on his plate and little time to look back. One of those projects was a commission from the Houston Grand Opera for a Caribbean inflected opera titled Salsipuedes. Another was looming on the not distant horizon, a project for Placido Domingo and his Los Angeles Opera. This would become Daniel's final completed work, a little masterpiece called Il Postino.

I engaged Daniel in a series of phone interviews over a period of several years. It became comfortable conversation. We became friends and I was happy to share in his enthusiasm for Il Postino. It was based loosely on the Academy Award winning movie by the same title, though Daniel was quick to point out that he had gone back to the roots of the story, to the book Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta.

Those of us who had been following the career of Daniel Catan knew Il Postino would be good. We even thought it might be great. After all, he was creating a role for Placido Domingo. How often does one have that opportunity?

"I keep pinching myself," he admitted with obvious glee.

Some months passed as Il Postino opened and wowed the public. Immediately the production took flight with performances in Vienna and a highly anticipated date in Paris. In the meanwhile, Daniel came to Austin to do a bit of teaching and to work on a new project, an operatic retelling of the Frank Capra movie Meet John Doe. I finally had the opportunity to meet Daniel face-to-face, something I had not done since that first meeting in the 1980s. As I walked to his apartment in South Austin, he waited outside his front door. We recognized each other immediately.

"It feels as though we have known each other a long time," he said. Indeed it did.

I would see Daniel only once more after that final interview. We were to meet in Houston, where the Moores Opera Theatre was mounting Il Postino, but Daniel was curiously absent that evening. No one realized at that moment that Daniel had passed away the day before, in his sleep. Rest in Peace, my old friend.

There will be no time for this entire history Sunday evening (11/18/12) when I feature several excerpts from Il Postino within the context of Itinerarios, KPAC's weekly program of music with Latin American roots. Nevertheless, that history and more will surely be on my shoulders as I share the music and selected words from the various interviews with Daniel. Please plan to listen Sunday evening at 7 o'clock, and please ask a friend to listen too. This music just might touch your heart and soul.

James Baker, host and producer of Itinerarios

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