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Daniel CATÁN (1949 - )
Rappaciniís Daughter (Opera Highlights) (1988)
Libretto by Juan Tovar after Octavio Paz (1914 - )
Obsidian butterfly (1984)
text from "Selected Poems" by Octavio Paz
Encarnación Vázquez, mezzo-soprano
Fernando de la Mora, tenor
Jesús Suaste, tenor
Convivium Musicum Chorus
Eduardo Diasmuñoz, conductor
Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded in Mexico City, October 1991
NAXOS 21st Century Classics 8.557034


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With many operas and songs the texts are embarrassingly bad, therefore it is refreshing to encounter vocal music based on poetry by the winner of the 1990 Nobel prize for Literature.

Composer Daniel Catán (whose works are published by Boosey & Hawkes by the way) and everyone else associated with this disk are Mexican, which illustrates the rapidly progressing state of music in Mexico. Although this may come as a surprise to some, those of us who are familiar with, for example, the distinguished recordings of Hispanic orchestral music performed by Enrique Bátiz and the Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra, know that for many years the music schools and performing groups in Mexico have been growing in eminence and are now ready to appear on the world stage without apology.

Catán was born in Mexico City in 1949 and studied philosophy and music in England, the United States, and Japan. His opera "Florencias en el Amazonas" premiered in Houson in 1996, was later performed in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Seattle, and in 1998 won the Placido Domingo prize. He wrote the music to the film "Iím Losing You" (1999). The composition of "Rappaciniís Daughter," which premiered in San Diego in 1994, occupied six years during which the composer travelled extensively. A Los Angeles Times review said in part: "He knows how to write for the stage and for the voice, and has devised an attractive postmodern musical style."

He is proud of his wide ranging roots, but his style has a sense of integrity. The music from "Rappaciniís Daughter" presented here is richly dramatic, a post modern sensual chromatic romanticism, with the singers recorded very forward, their parts more often declamatory than lyrical. One does not get much sense of the structure the opera as a whole. Besides the expected influences from modern operas that composer admits to, one also hears Alberto Ginastera, Augustyn Bloch, Karol Szymanowski, the string music at the very beginning of the CD reminding one of Michael Tippett.

The cantata "Obsidian Butterfly" is presented whole. The poem is an apostrophe by the Ancient Mexican earth Goddess Itzpapálotl lamenting her imprisonment in the officially approved worship figure of the Virgen de Guadalupe and offering the enormous range of ecstatic earth religious experience she truly embodies. Here the music is more conservative that in the opera sounding no more exotic than Honegger.

Performance and sound are first rate, with the Spanish words of the singers clearly enunciated.

Paul Shoemaker

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