October 27th, 2010
At last month’s Western Arts Alliance conference, I had the privilege of attending the opening keynote address by Mexican composer Daniel Catán. Catán’s name has been all over the news in recent weeks as a result of the tremendous success of his most recent opera Il Postino at LA Opera. The opera, sung in Spanish and based on the popular 1994 Italian film, stars Plácido Domingo. The University of Texas’s Butler School of Music recently announced that it has commissioned a new opera by Catán, based on the 1941 Frank Capra comic drama “Meet John Doe.” This spring, the Butler Opera Center, will also present another of Catán operas, La Hija de Rappaccini.
Catán’s address touched on a number of important issues faced by the performing arts community today, including:
• The responsibility of artists & arts presenters for continuing and strengthening arts education programs, in spite of (if not because of) the dwindling offerings in public schools
• Differences between artists and celebrities and the roles these classifications play in programming decisions
• The role of Hispanics in America and in the arts
Related to this final point, Catán also spoke about the vital role that the U.S. plays in broader performing arts ecosystem of the Americas:
“Latin America is a complex web of countries with great differences between them. When an artist from Latin America comes north, he is not only trying to sell his art to a wealthy market. He also seeks validation throughout the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. An Argentinean tango, for example, is not likely to enter the Venezuelan market, unless it is validated in the US first. And by that I do not mean “Hispanic US” but “Non-Hispanic US.”
It is very important for “Non-Hispanic US” to understand its role as validator, as unifier of the Latin American markets (notice I use the plural here). And of course, this gives the Western States of the US a unique opportunity to lead over this enormous group of people. The links between “Hispanic US” and the rest of Latin America could not be stronger: there’s a deep and powerful culture, there are family relationships and commercial interests. But Hispanic US and Non-Hispanic US need to link up in order to complete the circle with the rest of Latin America. This is why these two groups, these two cultures must embrace each other, for together they have a fantastic future.”
I have not heard a more succinct and accurate assessment of this cultural phenomenon, and I’ve been thinking about this speech for weeks now.
Catán is one of the most eloquent and thoughtful voices in the arts today, and someone to whom we must be sure to listen.