Bethel Park baritone: ‘La Traviata’ marks resident’s first performance with Pittsburgh Opera
Having professional opera singers for parents might be a good determining factor in choosing a career.
“They were actually very well-known in Romania,” Bethel Park resident Sebastian Catana said about his father, the late Vasile Catana, and mother, Emilia. “They had important careers there. There’s also a very good tradition of opera singing in Romania.”
Sebastian has carried on the tradition through his baritone voice, but not in his native country, which he left when he was a teenager.
“At that time, it was the very repressive regime of (Nicolae) Ceaușescu,” he said about the Romanian dictator who was deposed and executed in December 1989.
A few months after that, Catana and his mother able to join other family members in Michigan, where his grandfather had settled after escaping the impending Soviet occupation of Romania in 1947.
“America, to me, has always been a very welcoming place,” Catana said. “And my grandfather, the reason he came here was because it was such a welcoming place. It was a place that provided home to a lot of people who felt persecuted in their countries. It’s important to remember.”
Pittsburgh Opera is welcoming him in the role of Giorgio Germont, portraying the main character’s father, in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Performances are on Oct. 8, 11, 14 and 16 at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.
“From a vocal point of view, from an artistic interpretation point of view, it’s a good role, and we have a very good team here that we work with,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very enjoyable production.”
Although he lives only about 15 miles from the Strip District headquarters of Pittsburgh Opera, “La Traviata” marks his first performances with the company. Since 2007, he has spent much of his time traveling throughout Europe, specializing in the works of Verdi.
“I don’t think there has been anyone better, and I don’t think anyone will be better than him,” Catana said about the 19th-century Italian composer. “He was a genius, a tremendous talent who could really bring so much life.”
Prior to performing in Pittsburgh, Catana most recently performed in Amsterdam. And later in October, he will sing in “Rigoletto” for audiences in Trieste, Italy.
“That’s one of the few in which the baritone is the title role,” he explained, “and it’s a fantastic role, very demanding but so beautiful.”
His Pittsburgh Opera stint gives him more time to spend with his wife, Finleyville native Melanie Vaccari Catana, and their children: Maria Vincenza, 9, and Maximilian, 4. Of course, they often join him on the road, so to speak.
“Whenever they can, they come,” he said. “For example, I was singing this summer in Rome, and they were there with me.”
The family also took the opportunity visit his hometown of Cluj, the second-largest city in Romania and former capital of the Grand Principality of Transylvania.
Catana came to Pennsylvania by way of the University of Michigan, continuing his education in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University.
“At that time, believe it or not, I was studying chemical engineering,” he recalled. “After a couple of years, I switched to music, and then I met my wife.”
As a fellow opera singer, she encouraged his pursuit of a musical career, which included training with the Seattle and Baltimore operas prior to his 2003 debut with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. His European debut took place four years later in Bologna, Italy, and he has been a regular throughout the Continent since.
Catana takes a part of Pittsburgh with him, though: No matter where he is, an app allows him to keep close track of the National Football League, especially the Steelers, of course. That fits right in with his approach to his performances.
“A lot of times, you’re competitive, like a professional athlete,” he said. “When it’s show time, you have to give your best and focus.”
For more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org/show/la-traviata.