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ClassicsOnline Home » CATAN: Rappaccini's Daughter (Highlights) / Obsidian Butterfly
By Jerome R. Sehulster
"The Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra intones a lush orchestral fabric under the direction of Eduardo Diazmunoz."
Daniel Catán (b.1949): Rappaccinis Daughter Obsidian Butterfly
Music and Poetry
I was convinced, from the very first reading, that La hija de Rappaccini, by Octavio Paz, would make a beautiful opera. The experience of love, fleeting, fragile and unending, in which life and death intertwine to exchange their secrets; the only moment where Time stops and human beings are allowed a taste of immortality: this, for me, is the heart of Pazs work and the thing that irresistibly attracted me to it. I soon recognised, furthermore, that his poetic idea was nothing less than the very essence of music. Hearing is the most intimate of the senses and musical forms those that come closest to the nature of desire.
I have inherited a very rich operatic tradition. In my work, I am proud to say, one can detect the enormous debt I owe to composers from Monteverdi to Alban Berg. But, perhaps, the greatest of my debts is having learnt that the originality of an opera need not involve the rejection of our tradition (which would be like blindly embracing the condition of an orphan), but rather the profound assimilation of it, so as to achieve the closest union between a text and its music.
Looked upon in this way, opera is certainly an art form worthy of having been dreamed up by Doctor Rappaccini. It is not sufficient to write melodies that fit the verbal phrases. The music of an opera, in order to be successful, has to be able to capture the poetic idea of the text and express it in its own terms, and musical forms, since they evolve in a temporal dimension, are particularly apt in tracing the evolution of a character or that of a poetic idea. This is the true challenge, and it is precisely to this end that I have directed all my efforts and my skill.
I worked on this opera for six years. The composition took me to Japan and to Indonesia, where I lived for a year and a half, and to Europe for another year. Those were years of prolific musical activity and of profound, critical revision in the face of musical traditions so different from ours. I sustained, during all that time, an intense and passionate monologue with Octavio Paz and his work. I discussed every scene, every word; I sang every syllable. It is now a great honour to be able to present this as a modest homage to him and his work, as testimony of how much and for how long his work nourished me.
Some poems have music in them. Obsidian Butterfly is one of them. A goddess speaks to us with images of fire; she recalls a remote past, idyllic, continuous in its sense of time, unbroken; she describes the fractured present, angular, nervous, dissonant; she then speaks of the future, and when she does, she whispers in our ear. Each time suggests a music of its own. Music is, after all, the sound that time makes as it passes; sometimes it moves slowly and anxiously, at other times fluently, like a waterfall; it can be muffled and sombre, and it can glitter.
The most interesting aspect of the poem, however, is that the extreme worlds the goddess describes are finally seen, not as disconnected and opposed to one another, but as parts of a complex and organic unity. The transition from tragedy to sensuality, for example, is a transformation and not a displacement. New life emerges from the wound itself. But just as tragedy always contains the seed that leads to life, so new life retains within itself the wound that leads to death. The words Die in my lips/ Rise from my eyes form a single and terrifying unit. This vision of the world that Pazs poem presents is what inspired me most during the composition; it is also the concept on which I worked most carefully.
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CATAN: Rappaccini's Daughter (Highlights) / Obsidi...