Maestro Daniel Catán stepped before the curtain preceding the special Student Matinee of Florencia en el Amazonas here in 1997. Speaking in Spanish, he succinctly prepared the audience of East LA high school students for this, their very first fine arts experience.
Funded by the 11th hour gift of an anonymous Opera League member, no opportunity had been available for classroom preparation. Nevertheless, Catán’s words, coupled with the students’ intuitive good sense [They were dressed superbly, suitable even for a First Communion], produced a perfect-for-the-occasion audience response. The only anxious moment came during the curtain calls, when Rod Gilfry, buffed up and bare-chested for his role as the River God Riolobo, drew what could only be described as an “animal lust” reaction from the teeny boppers in the balcony [Rod wisely remained backstage afterwards until these future sorority girls were secured in their busses].
The River God Riolobo Visits the El Dorado
Florencia was also the first opera for Andrea Puente in 1999, then beginning her tenure as Principal Harp Chair with Mexico City’s Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas Artes. Ms. Puente had first met Daniel Catán when she was a student at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. In the course of time, Daniel and Andrea joined our community, Andrea earning a Masters of Music from CSULA and Daniel teaching composition, music appreciation and music history at Santa Clarita’s College of the Canyons.
Andrea’s studies at Cal State produced a serendipitous meeting and ensuing artistic partnership with flautist Salpy Kerkonian. Ms. Kerkonian, acknowledging the potential marketplace for their duo’s performances, subordinated her Armenian ancestry and agreed for the duo’s name to be “Arpa y Aulos”, the Aulos being an ancient, double-barreled Greek instrument [see photo below], a characteristic instrument for the followers of the god Dionysus. The duo has performed for scores of regional concerts and community outreach programs, in venues ranging from museums to libraries to schools and concert halls.
Arpa y Aulos: Dressed for the Occasion The Aulos
An “alternate channel” compositional backwater came about with Daniel’s 2004 opera Salsipuedes, a Tale of Love, War and Anchovies. The off-beat libretto (set in wartime 1943), involving as it did the involvement of the island of Salsipuendes’ corrupt local administration conniving to sell a boatload of “precious” Salsipuedes’ anchovies to Nazis, evoked thoughts of Mel Brooks’ ‘Springtime for Hitler’, and the Caribbean rhythms motivated both Daniel and Andrea to study drumming for several months. Following in the next few years, the opera Il Postino evolved, deepening the friendship with Plácido Domingo as Daniel’s personal focus gradually shifted from that of the postman Mario to that of the poet Neruda.
With Daniel’s passing in 2011, many things were left undone and many new action items emerged. Besides taking on Daniel’s teaching position at the College of the Canyons as an Adjunct Professor, Andrea has completed compiling a volume of Daniel’s essays and hopes to produce a commercial CD of her husband’s instrumental compositions with Arpa y Aulos. Meet John Doe, Daniel’s unfinished opera, is now, with the collaboration of Maestro Eduardo Diazmuñoz, and composers Michaela Eremiášová and Jairo Duarte-López, completed and scheduled for work-shopping at Cincinnati Opera, beginning in late January. Looking ahead to revitalizing the Daniel Catán Foundation, an entity founded by Andrea and Daniel’s three children, Andrea has begun studies in the pursuit of a Master's Degree in Fund-raising Management at the Heyman Center of Philanthropy at NYU.
The opera Florencia en el Amazonas, a metaphor for life itself, has framed much of the adult life of Andrea Puente Catán. Beginning with that performance with Mexico City’s Orquesta del Teatro de Bellas and continuing to this day, Andrea draws from the tributaries of her knowledge as a teacher, her expertise as a performer, and her dedication as a fine arts advocate, enriching our community.
Andrea, our neighbor and fellow opera-lover: ¡Muchas gracias!