07 Jul 2010
Daniel Catán: An Interview by Maria Nockin
“You want to frame the voice in such a way that it shines.”— Daniel Catán
Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.
‘Lieder v. Opera’? At first glance it might seem to be a pointless or nonsensical question.
Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.
For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.
American tenor René Barbera is fast making a name for himself as one of the top bel canto singers in opera houses around the world.
I’m interviewing Stefano Mastrangelo in the immediate aftermath of his conducting La Traviata for the Chofu City Opera in Tokyo on 22 November 2014; he conveys an air at once of tiredness and exhilaration.
Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.
American composer Jennifer Higdon has won many awards for her imaginative music. Her percussion concerto received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
Bratislava in Slovakia might seem an unlikely place to come across the opera I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna) a 1911 rarity written by the Italian/German Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, a composer best known for his one-act opera Il segreto di Susanna ( Susanna’s Secret) and his comedies based on Goldoni.
Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.
Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.
Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.
"Although there are now more people on this planet than there have ever been before, there are fewer dramatic voices. Something is wrong with that equation. I thought there needs to be some sort of helping hand so that dramatic voices don’t fall through the cracks in the system as they advance through their various stages of development."
Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.
Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.
Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.
Matthew Polenzani reprises the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Royal Opera House. “I love coming back to London”, he says, “It’s a very good house and they take care of you as a singer. And the level of music making is unbelievably high”.
The Flying Dutchman is a transitional piece because Wagner was only beginning to establish his style. He took some aspects from Carl Maria von Weber and others from Italian composers like Vincenzo Bellini.
On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel, but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes.
“You want to frame the voice in such a way that it shines.”— Daniel Catán
On June 26, 2010, I spoke with Daniel Catán, an American composer who writes operas with Spanish texts. He and his wife, Andrea, were at their lovely California home not too far from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita where he teaches. His brand new Opera, Il Postino, will receive its world premiere at Los Angeles Opera on September 23, 2010. The libretto is based on the 1994 film of the same name directed by Michael Radford. The opera was commissioned by LA Opera as a co-production with the Theater and der Wien in Vienna and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
MN: Did you grow up in a musical atmosphere?
DC: Not exactly. My parents loved music. My father loved singing in particular, but he did not expect his children to be musicians. I went to boarding school in England shortly before my fourteenth birthday. After graduation, I attended the University of Sussex where I majored in philosophy. Then, I went to the University of Southampton to study music. After that, I came to Princeton University in the US where I did my graduate work, eventually receiving a master’s degree followed by a doctorate in composition.
MN: Who were your teachers at Princeton?
DC: I studied with Milton Babbitt and two of his students, Benjamin Boretz and James K. Randall. They were very inclusive in their outlook and they worked at helping their students find their own voices. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write opera. I always found that having a dramatic text was very inspirational for me. That really got my creative ideas flowing. I’ve composed operas and more or less stayed working at that until now, but I had to learn to use the orchestra as an operatic tool. Opera demands a different type of orchestration from an instrumental piece. In the latter type of work, the instruments are right in the forefront. When you orchestrate the accompaniment for a singer, it has to function so that the singer’s music is in the forefront.
MN: How has your music changed over the years?
DC: My music changes for practical reasons. It differs with each commission, for example. The more I work with singers and see my work staged, the more I understand that not everything that looks good on paper will work equally well on the stage. My composition has progressed based on the experiences that I have had. When my students ask my advice, I tell them to be sure to go to all the rehearsals of their works because that is a composer’s learning process. The composition is most definitely not finished just because you put a double bar on the page! You need to make changes as you see your piece evolving on the stage. One learns by experience and at this point I can anticipate certain things. You want to frame the voice in such a way that it shines. Being able to do that, again, is something that comes with experience.
MN: Where do you teach?
DC: The courses that I am currently teaching are Fundamentals of Music, Music Appreciation, Harmony and Counterpoint and Orchestration. All are at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California where they are very good to me.
MN: What is the makeup of your overall musical palette?
DC: It really depends on the piece that I am writing. In Florencia en el Amazonas, for example, I used clarinets, marimbas and harps because I was trying to invoke the fluidity of the Amazon River and the ambience of that area. Then I wrote Salsipuedes, which takes place in the Caribbean, so I used a different set of instruments and Afro-Caribbean rhythms to set that scene. There, I did not really use any upper strings; I mainly used clarinets, trumpets and percussion. Thus, the sound world of that piece is unique, in much the same way that the sound world of Florencia is. In Il Postino, I used a more Mediterranean sound because the opera takes place in Italy. Thus, I’ve constructed an orchestration that sounds more Italian and not quite as exotic. There are more strings and I’ve included an accordion in the stage banda.
MN: What aspects of composition do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging?
DC: What I like best is working out the smallest details in a turn of phrase or a harmonic twist that makes a phrase shine just so. That gives me a great deal of the pleasure of the artisan. I love that. I can spend hours on a phrase, but it’s worth it if in the end I can get it to come out just right. I think the most difficult thing is to find the right voice for each character. It would be much too easy to rewrite the music you wrote for a previous character, but no two characters are really the same. You need to have that very clear in your mind and think of each character from the ground upwards. Not to repeat myself, that’s what I find most challenging.
MN: How large an orchestra do you like to use for opera and does the size of the orchestra make a difference in getting the opera performed?
DC: That depends on the piece. Some of the works I write are intended for small orchestras and small spaces. If you have a large space, you need to fill it with an appropriate sized orchestra. But, that being said, I have been gratified to find that Florencia has been performed in both very large and very small spaces. It has been very successful in both and so has Salsipuedes. Now, with Postino, I am considering making an orchestral reduction. I did it for Rappaccini’s Daughter (La Hija de Rappaccini). I did not do it for Florencia and Salsipuedes because their orchestras were not very large to start with. They were only around forty players. Postino has, I think, sixty-five players for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in Los Angeles. Postino has a chorus, too. When I first started writing opera I tried to avoid choruses and large orchestras, but in Houston, when I did Florencia there, they said they had a chorus and they wanted me to use it. Actually, a few companies have said that to me. I like to tailor some aspects of the opera to the companies presenting them, as long as I can maintain the integrity of the work.