The Opera World Mourns the Loss of Beloved Lotfi Mansouri

Toronto Mourns beloved Lotfi Mansouri

Lotfi 2

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Opera Company is deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of former general director Lotfi Mansouri, who guided the company from 1976 to 1988.

“Lotfi Mansouri was a legend. There is no question he was one of opera’s most influential general directors; whether it be his passion for promoting young performers, his zeal for attracting new audiences to the art form, or his undeniable love of opera and all its idiosyncrasies,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef.  “The international prestige that this company now enjoys is due in no small part to his strong leadership and tireless efforts.  I am personally very grateful for his friendship and the advice he shared with me ever since I joined the COC.”

Mansouri was the COC’s third general director and played a significant role in launching the COC’s international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation, and growing the company into the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America.  During his tenure, Mansouri’s focus was on implementing a longer performance season, audience development, more adventurous repertoire and productions, and advance planning both financially and artistically, the accomplishments of which are essential elements of the COC’s operations today.

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The COC’s international reputation was most certainly launched with the growing number of singers of world-renown that Mansouri was able to attract to the company with greater regularity.  Mansouri brought with him to the COC an extensive network of friends and associates developed during his time as a resident stage director at Zurich Opera and Geneva Opera, as well as guest director at major opera houses in Italy and the United States.  Not long into his term the COC presented what has been called an unprecedented season with preeminent opera stars of the day Joan Sutherland, Tatiana Troyanos, Elisabeth Söderström and James McCracken all appearing in the 1980 – 1981 performance year.

Mansouri is also credited with establishing the COC Orchestra and COC Chorus, which have become two of the company’s most distinguished attributes.  The company’s orchestra and chorus are internationally acclaimed for the skill and musicianship possessed by their artists.

A great ambition of Mansouri’s was the creation of a specialized training program for young opera artists that would serve as a bridge to professional life.  This goal was realized in 1980 with the launch of the COC Ensemble Studio, which has become Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals.  To date, over 180 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Ensemble Studio, claiming such alumni as Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó.

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It was also during Mansouri’s time as general director that the COC established permanent administrative offices at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre and its own production shop, an essential requirement of any major opera company.

Under Mansouri’s tenure, one of the greatest contributions to the COC and the opera world was the creation of SURTITLES™, which were unveiled at the company’s 1983 production of Elektra.  The occasion marked the very first time any opera house in the world had projected a simultaneous translation of the opera for its audience, and the advent of SURTITLES™ allowed the COC to make opera more accessible to audiences.  The idea of titles, once revolutionary to the international opera community, is now accepted practice in all major opera houses worldwide.

Mansouri left the COC in 1988 to become general director of San Francisco Opera.  He returned on multiple occasions to give masterclasses to the young opera professionals of the Ensemble Studio and to direct on the company’s mainstage.

Met Opera Soprano, Aprile Millo comments on Mansouri’s passing

“This man was a true gentleman of opera: cultivated, innovative, and expertly in love with opera.  He fought for opera in general but especially for those artists he loved.  I was thrilled to be one of them.  He and his brother Zerin mean a lot to me and I send sympathy and solidarity to his immediate family and to the opera family that he leaves much less rich at his passing.”    A. Millo

Millo

Mansouri brought Millo to Toronto in the early 90s for a spectacular production of Andrea Chenier with Ermano Mauro, Jean Stilwell.

Tenor, Brian Gow comments on Lotfi’s influence on young Canadian Singers

Brian Gow

Canadian Tenor, Brian Gow who was in the chorus for that Andrea Chenier mentions, “He nurtured so many singers like Ben Heppner and Richard Margison and single handedly created the next generation of Canadian singers.  He brought new repertoire to the company, like Wozzeck which was beneficial to a young group of Canadian singers. He allowed us to hear and sing along with some of the greatest singers in the world, like Joan Sutherland, Tatiana Troyanos, and Aprile Millo which gave us hope that there was a venue in which to learn the craft of opera without going to Europe, especially with the creation of the Ensemble Studio.”  Brian Gow

Canadian Mezzo-Soprano Jean Stilwell comments on Mansouri’s passing

Jean-Stilwell

“For me, Lotfi gave me many opportunities as a young singer.  At first small roles so I could be around experienced people.  It gave me great experience on stage.  Lotfi could always demonstrate what he wanted beautifully.  He would show what he wanted in a very meticulous way and was a fine actor himself. He would get exactly what he wanted from me by demonstrating.  He loved the voice, good musicians, and he knew right from wrong, what was good and what wasn’t.  He was a master at creating excellent casts. I feel extremely fortunate to have been around at the time when he was at the Canadian Opera Company and I learned so much from him.  I am grateful for the time that he was here.”  Jean Stilwell

 Canadian Mezzo-Soprano Kimberly Barber comments on Mansouri’s development of the Canadian Opera Company

Kim Barber

“He put the Canadian Opera Company on the map and was responsible for creating the ensemble studio.  He was like a father figure to many, including me.  I performed by very first Komponist with him.  Mikado, Magic Flute, Tales of Hoffman, and the world premiere of Ann Mortisee’s Rose is a Rose.  Every time he saw me he would say, “I always remember you.  You were my Rose.”  Other singers he helped nurture are Ted Baerg, and Kathleen Brett.  He was definitely a champion of opera and young singers. He brought amazing artists during his tenure and the COC owes its tremendous stature to the seeds that Lotfi planted back then.  He will be tremendously missed.”  Kimberly Barber

In Mansouri’s memory:

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