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 "I’m
Losing You" (1999). The composition of "Rappacini’s 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 "Rappacini’s 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
Performance and sound are first rate, with the Spanish
words of the singers clearly enunciated.