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Volume 19 Issue 2 - October 2013

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Lasting LegacyLotfi

Lasting LegacyLotfi MansouriPAMELA MARGLESLotfi Mansouri, who led the Canadian OperaCompany from 1976 until 1988, died in SanFrancisco on August 31 of this year. He leftan indelible mark on the COC. When I interviewedhim for The WholeNote seven years ago,he said right at the start of our conversation,“Opera really is the most wonderful art form inthe world!” That passion for opera shaped hiswork, and his life. In the international operaworld Mansouri will be best rememberedfor inventing Surtitles. The idea of projectinga translation of the libretto during an operaperformance, like subtitles on a televisionbroadcast, came to him while he was at homein Toronto with his wife Midge, watching anopera on TV. His idea revolutionized operagoing.It allowed audiences to understand whatsingers were singing while they were singing.The first outing for Surtitles was on January 21,1983, during Mansouri’s staging of Elektra for the COC, when they appeared on ascreen above the proscenium at the O’Keefe Centre (later renamed the HummingbirdCentre, now the Sony Centre). Opera history was made in Toronto that evening.Mansouri gave Toronto opera audiences much more than Surtitles. It’s his workas a stage director that had the most immediate influence on Toronto audiences. InToronto alone he directed 44 productions, 30 of which were new productions. He hadstarted out in opera as a tenor, and he brought everything he had to offer as a musicianas well as a director to his productions. For him it was all about the music, thewords, the story, the singers, the chorus, the musicians in the pit and their conductor,and, above all, the audience — not his personal vision. His direct approach resulted insome exciting productions, especially in modern repertoire. His remount of Wozzeckfor the COC’s final performance in the Hummingbird was stunning in its clarity, stylishnessand sheer poignancy — he got right to the heart of the piece.When I talked with Mansouri, he had retired as general director of the San FranciscoOpera four years earlier, and was working on his memoirs. I expected a followupto the warm-hearted brief memoir he had published during his Toronto years, LotfiMansouri: An Operatic Life. But he ended up publishing two remarkably candid books.The first, a full-length autobiography, Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey, offers afascinating description of his early years in Iran, and a controversial look at the difficultiesof his final years with the San Francisco Opera. The second, True Tales Fromthe Mad, Mad, Mad World of Opera, offers a sharp, funny collection of anecdotes fromhis extraordinary career.Here is a very truncated version of the story I wrote seven years ago. The unabridgedversion is available on The WholeNote website and is well worth a look for the insightsit gives into Mansouri’s own view of what has proven to be a lasting legacy.December 2006: Lotfi Mansouri came to townrecently to receive a Ruby Award from OperaCanada, and to give a masterclass at the University ofToronto’s Faculty of Music. I met with him at his Torontohotel just as his wife Midge was going out to have lunchwith friends. Mansouri radiates unbounded enthusiasmand good humour as he recalls how he was here lastspring to direct Berg’s Wozzeck. “I started my work herein 1977 with Wozzeck. It’s one of my favourite operas. I’velearned in my career that you always do your very, verydemanding pieces in your honeymoon period with theboard of directors, because later they get very conservativeand careful. One of the“If you wererunning arestaurant,you wouldn’tonly servewhat you liked.You see whatI mean?”newspaper critics wrote,‘Mansouri smiles at thebrink of disaster,’ becausethey didn’t think you couldsell six Wozzecks. But wesold them all.”Mansouri directed Wozzeckagain in 1990 duringhis last season here. It wasthis production, with setsand costumes by MichaelLevine, who designed therecent Ring Cycle, that was revived last season. It turnedout to be the final opera performed by the COC in theHummingbird Centre.“I never liked that place, even though I worked in itfor 13 years. It was just not right for opera. So it was veryironic that I got a chance to do the very last performancethere. Afterwards, I said to the company, ‘Do I leadthe torch parade? Let’s put the flames to this dump!’When he first came here 30 years ago, he found Torontorather provincial, and very Anglo-Saxon. “Then all of thesudden things started to explode and the city becamewonderfully exciting. It was a very good time to be hereand I enjoyed it. I felt like we were in one of those oldMickey Rooney-Judy Garland films, the let’s-put-on-ashow-in-a-barnkind of thing. We just did it.”One of his triumphs as a stage director here wasBellini’s Norma with the greatest Norma of her day,Joan Sutherland, and the equally unforgettable Adalgisaof Tatiana Troyanos. “Norma was the first time thatTERRENCE McCARTHY12 | October 1 – November 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

2013·2014COC OperatOurs fOr the 2013/2014 seasOnRevel in magnificent opera and song in scenic Switzerland and Austria!GeneVa:May 12 – 19, 2014A unique blend of myth, stage andmusic that leaves one changed forever.A complete performance of Der Ringdes Nibelungen is a once-in-a-lifetimeopportunity not to be missed.Grand théâtre de GenèVeWAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen n.p.c. Ingo Metzmacher, d. Dieter DornOrchestre de la Suisse RomandePresented with French and English surtitlesaustrIa:August 23 – 31, 2014sChubertIadeExperience Europe’s leading song recitaland chamber music festival held in theAlpine village of Schwarzenberg, with itsacoustically superb, all-wooden, 600-seatconcert hall.Singers: Pavol Breslik, ElisabethKulman, Michael Volle, Soile Isokoski,Ian Bostridge, Adrianne Pieczonka,Benjamin BrunsPianists: Arcadi Volodos, Till FellnerQuartets: Belcea, Modigliani, Minetti,Hagen and more!d. – Director c. – Conductor n.p. – New ProductionFor up-to-date information (including tour changes and newly announcedtours), please visit our website at coc.ca/Operatours. For full bookinginformation e-mail operatours@golden.net OR send a SEPARATE,self-addressed, stamped envelope (#10 business-size) for each tour thatinterests you to: COC Operatoursc/o Merit Travel114 – 101 Cherryhill Blvd.London ON N6H 4S4coc.casteinway piano gallerythewholenote.com October 1 – November 7, 2013 | 13

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020
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