Audiences around the globe are anticipating the debut of Daniel Catán's latest opera "Il Postino." Thanks to the University of Houston, Houstonians will be among the first in the world to experience it.
In April 2011, UH's Edythe Bates Old Moores Opera Center will be the first U.S. company to produce this opera following its fall premiere at the Los Angeles Opera. It will run April 8 - 11 in Moores Opera House.
"This is an extraordinary honor for the Moores Opera Center and the University of Houston," said Buck Ross, director of the Moores Opera Center. "It is a tribute to our continuing commitment to new operas. It also speaks to our program's international recognition, as one of the world's most prominent opera composers selected it to present his newest opera."
Catán's relationship with UH began in 1996 while working with Houston Grand Opera (HGO) on the debut of his work "Florencia en el Amazonas." During its production, he met Ross and learned more about the university and its opera program. Catán's bond with the university continued, particularly when UH professor of voice Joseph Evans performed in HGO's world premiere of his opera "Salispuedes" in 2004.
In 2009, Ross directed a UH production of "Florencia en el Amazonas" and invited the composer. Instead of attending a sole performance, Catán participated in rehearsals and worked with the student singers. The experience was memorable for both the composer and the performers.
"I was struck by the enthusiasm and professionalism of the Moores Opera Center," Catán said. "The ‘Florencia' rehearsal period was very exciting, and the final result very professional indeed. Since then, I've been a fan of the extraordinary group of musicians and technical staff that makes this possible."
That collaboration planted the seeds for Moores Opera Center's continuing "Daniel Catán Project." Through this project, the Center will produce one of Catán's operas every two years. Catán himself suggested that "Il Postino" should be featured as the project's next opera.
"I am thrilled and deeply honored by his trust in us," Ross said. "Major opera companies plan season schedules years in advance. When a brand new opera such as ‘Il Postino' premieres, it might not be produced again for several years because of such rigid scheduling. I think that a university program such as ours can take on new works more quickly and create more excitement about contemporary opera."
Catán also is excited about seeing his latest work performed at UH. He said that quality university programs such as the Moores Opera Center are essential to the evolution of contemporary opera.
"The Moores Opera Center is an extraordinary program that provides students with invaluable firsthand experience," he said. "I believe the future of opera in this country is tied to centers like the Moores Opera Center. They have the flexibility and freedom to teach students repertory that will very soon be the staple of our opera houses."
A versatile composer, Catán has written chamber and orchestral works, as well as music for film and television. He became the first composer from Mexico to have an opera produced in the U.S. when the San Diego Opera presented "Rappaccini's Daughter" in 1994. Works such as "Florencia en el Amazonas" and "Salispuedes" (both commissioned and premiered by HGO) made Catán a major force in contemporary opera. Based on Antonio Skarmeta's 1986 novel and the 1994 Academy Award-winning film, "Il Postino" focuses on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a political exile living on an Italian island with his wife. He befriends shy postman Mario, teaches him the joys of poetry and encourages his efforts to woo a beautiful young woman.
L.A. Opera will premiere "Il Postino" in September. Opera legend and the company's general director Placido Domingo will play the role of Neruda. From Los Angeles, "Il Postino" will head to Vienna before arriving at UH.
Catán is thrilled to have a vocal marvel such as Domingo attached to his work, but he also is particularly eager to see his work performed by the talents at UH's Moores Opera Center.
"The Moores Opera Center is one of the most vibrant opera companies in the U.S.," he said. "It has an enviable record of presenting new operas."
The Moores Opera Center presents four shows during its performance season. Its repertoire is a mix of contemporary works ("A Wedding," "Flight," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Elmer Gantry"), classics ("Don Giovanni") and rarely performed productions ("Les Mamelles de Tiresias").
This year, the Moores Opera Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Originally titled the University Opera Theatre, it launched its first production, "The Mother of Us All," in 1986. Since then, the Moores Opera Center has provided Houstonians with quality productions at affordable ticket prices ($10 - $15). All operas are performed in UH's ornate 800-seat Moores Opera House.
To learn more about the Moores Opera Center, visit www.music.uh.edu/opera.