Daniel Cariaga, 71; veteran Times writer chronicled the musical life of the city

Times Staff Writer

Daniel Cariaga, whose modest but deeply informed reviews and features appeared in the music pages of the Los Angeles Times for decades, has died. He was 71.

Cariaga died Wednesday morning of heart failure at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, according to his wife, mezzo-soprano Marvellee Cariaga.

“Danny Cariaga was the quiet, careful and profoundly knowledgeable chronicler of Los Angeles’ musical life for more than 40 years,” Times music critic Mark Swed said Thursday. “He was a critic’s critic. His prose was concise, graceful, understated. And his instinct in finding -- and his love of sharing -- pleasure in all that he heard and witnessed was unique.”


A native of Long Beach, Cariaga was born May 10, 1935. He began his musical life as a pianist. As a protege of famed cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, he attended the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara on summer scholarships, studying the art of accompanying with Emanuel Bay, who had been violinist Jascha Heifetz’s pianist for 25 years, and with Amparo Iturbi.

He also studied for two years at UCLA before transferring to Cal State Long Beach to work with pianist Ethel Willard Putnam. He graduated in 1959.

Cariaga immediately began his professional life with a season-long tour with Polish tenor Tade Sztuka. He continued to work as a pianist and conductor until 1964, touring with both the Spanish dance company of Lola Montes and the Norman Luboff Choir.

In 1961, he married operatic mezzo-soprano Marvellee Dyvonne Moody, well known for her collaborations with Gian Carlo Menotti, Richard Bonynge and Eugene Ormandy. Together, the Cariagas gave more than 1,000 recitals in the continental United States as well as on cruise ships.

In 1965, Cariaga’s life took a new direction when he began a seven-year stint as music and dance critic for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

He joined The Times in 1972, becoming the Times’ music writer and contributing more than 2,000 reviews and features, including colorful profiles of such major musical personalities as Earl Wild, Luciano Pavarotti, Claudio Arrau, Birgit Nilsson, Victoria de los Angeles, Heifetz, Eleanor Steber and Midori.

His mentoring of young writers and warm personality won him innumerable friends in and outside the newsroom, and in a profession that often draws blood and inflicts wounds that never heal, Cariaga was memorably devoid of enemies.

On Wednesday, former Times music critic Martin Bernheimer called him “the supremely reliable force that held the department together” for decades.

“In his calm and quiet way,” Bernheimer said, “he maintained order, bolstered goodwill and sustained high standards of old-fashioned journalism. He was a discerning critic, a sympathetic editor, a suave writer and a musician with an unusually broad perspective. He somehow managed to be a realist and an idealist at the same time. Unlike many a colleague, he really understood technique, and he knew the repertory.”

Cariaga also was a magazine feature writer and correspondent for the Metropolitan Opera’s magazine, Opera News. He retired from The Times in 2003 but continued to contribute as a freelance writer.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Luisa Cariaga of Long Beach, and a son, Daniel Earl Cariaga of San Luis Obispo. Both are writers and musicians.

Funeral details are pending. A public memorial is planned for sometime in January.