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.

Lotfi 1

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.

 Lotfi 4

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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The New Opera Season Is Upon Us!!!!

Soprano, Anna Netrebko will leave her mark on the Bel Canto repertoire

The Diva, Defined: Netrebko Has Arrived (Zachary Woolfe, NY Times)

Across the world, this weekend brings the sizzling anticipation of the 2011/2012 to a fever pitch.  In what proves to be an exciting year in North America, there are some truly exceptional and rare operas to see and, moreover, fabulous new voices and familiar ones that never cease to please.  Friday night brought the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company 2011/12 season, with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and outstanding Canadian Baritone, Russell Braun in Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris. 

Susan Graham as Iphigenia in Tauris, in Toronto

Review in “NOW” Magazine (Toronto)

In New York City, opera aficionados wait in anticipation of opening night on Monday the 26th at 8pm, when the fabulous Anna Netrebko makes her debut performance as the incomparable Anna Bolena, alongside the vibrant voiced up-coming tenor, Stephen Costello.  Costello has caused quite the stir with his beautiful tones and glimmering upper tessitura, and Netrebko remains the beloved singer of the house but now she may leave her own indelible mark on this repertoire.

Tenor, Stephen Costello

Last night was the opening of the San Francisco Opera, with another Bel Canto favourite, Lucrezia Borgia, starring the ever-lovely Renee Fleming and the magnificent young tenor, Michael Fabiano.  Both Fabiano and Costello are electrifying the opera world and it will be an absolute joy for opera lovers to watch these careers flourish and bloom. Lucky are Mme’s Fleming and Netrebko to sing alongside these two great men and vice-versa.

Fleming stars as Lucrezia

“Singing Sensation Michael Fabiano” (SF Examiner)

“Young Borgia Tenor To Star With Top Diva” (San Francisco Examiner)

Review of Lucrezia Borgia from San Francisco Weekly

As the season begins, the Last Verista wishes all a successful and safe one, filled with excitement, great singing, and devotion to the art.  In Bocca al Lupo per tutti!!!

What’s Coming in the 2011-2012 Season.

The 2011-2012 season promises to be filled with new productions, good singing…probably bad singing, and hopefully the arrival of new operatic hopefuls who can fill seats and excite non-operagoers to come to the opera house.  I’ve decided to list the seasons according to house and repertoire, as an easy reference tool for those of you wanting to attend.  I’m also going to give each opera a rating and, later, links to reviews.  Later in the season, I may also list upcoming concerts that are worthwhile and any new releases that are worth purchasing.  For those of you who love opera but would rather listen in the comfort of your own home (as much as I think the true spectacle must be witnessed in the theatre), Sirius/XM Radio is a must have. The Met Opera Radio station plays full operas, recent and great performances ALL DAY LONG!   Also, Met Opera Player isn’t so shabby at $15 per month.  Chalk full of videos and recordings of live performances of the greats and recent productions, it’s nice to sit and watch on your own computer.  If you can pull together the funds to get yourself to NYC or to Europe, the best experience is always in the house.  The true prowess of the human voice can only truly be assessed as it is enmeshed with the orchestra in a live setting.

Reviews of the COC’s “The Flying Dutchman”

The Canadian Opera Company’s run of Wagner’s redemptive masterpiece, “Der Fliegende Holländer” ended last evening.  The following are some of the more prominent reviews the opera received in the past weeks.

The stage set for the COC’s production of “The Flying Dutchman”

John Terauds of the Toronto Star “The Flying Dutchman: Staging Swamps Talented Cast”

Ken Winters of the Globe and Mail, “The Flying Dutchman Finds its Redemption in the Singing”

Evgeny Nikitin as the Dutchman and Julie Makerov as Senta

Jamie Weinman from “Maclean’s Canada.” (The Controversial Opera Cities Love)

John Kaplan (Toronto Now) “The Flying Dutchman”

Nixon in China opens to great reviews at Vancouver Opera and heads to Toronto next season.

As of late, there has been a resurgence of interest in John Adam’s 1987 opera, “Nixon in China,” to a libretto by Alice Goodman.  The opera details the visit of United States President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972, where he met with China’s Chairman Mao Zedong and other Chinese officials.

The work was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Houston Grand Opera and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It premiered at the Houston Grand Opera, October 22, 1987 in a production by Peter Sellars with choreography by Mark Morris.
The opera focuses on the personalities and personal histories of the six key players, Nixon and his wife Pat, Jiang Qing (spelled “Chiang Ch’ing” in the libretto) and Chairman Mao (“Mao Tse-tung”), and the two close advisors to the two parties, Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai (“Chou En-lai”). It is composed of three acts. The first details the anticipation and arrival of the Nixon cortege and the first meeting and evening in China. The second act shifts focus to Pat Nixon, as she makes tours of rural China, including an encounter at a pig farm. The second scene includes a performance of a Communist propaganda play, in which first Pat Nixon, then her husband and then Jiang Qing, intercede in the performance. The last act chronicles the last night in China, in which the characters dance a foxtrot, their thoughts wandering to their own pasts.

Composer, John Adams

Musically, the opera perhaps owes more influence to minimalism than any Asian styles. (John Adams adapted the foxtrot theme from the last act into a concert piece entitled “The Chairman Dances”, published before the opera in 1985. In the intervening period, Adams switched publishers, hence the Foxtrot for Orchestra being published by G. Schirmer and the opera by Boosey & Hawkes.) The libretto, by contrast, was written completely in rhymed, metered couplets, reminiscent of poetic and theatrical styles native to China.

Here are some recent reviews for the Canadian premiere of “Nixon and China”:

“Nixon in Vancouver: a triumphant visit” by Elissa Poole (Globe and Mail)

Review in the Vancouver Straight by Janet SmithFrom the Vancouver Sun

Nixon in China coming to Toronto for 2010/11 season

Several years ago, John Adam’s work, “On the Transmigration of Souls,” touched me deeply following the 2001 September 11 attacks.  The work deserves a mention, due to its juxtaposed palate and the type of sound that is unmistakably recognized with Adams. Adams began writing the piece in late January 2002 for a requested tribute for September 11. The music was premiered by the New York Philharmonic on 19 September 2002 at Avery Fisher Hall. It is approximately 25 minutes long. In an interview Adams explained: “I want to avoid words like ‘requiem’ or ‘memorial’ when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn’t share. If pressed, I’d probably call the piece a ‘memory space.’ It’s a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical event – in this case to 9/11 – is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event.”


The title itself carries a certain heaviness of thought and meaning. According to Adams, “Transmigration means ‘the movement from one place to another’ or ‘the transition from one state of being to another.’ But in this case I meant it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don’t just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience.” Adams received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music for the piece. Its premiere recording (with Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic, New York Choral Artists, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus), received the 2005 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Its sheet music is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Carmen shakes things up, everywhere she goes! And, we LOVE it!

Two major North American companies are simultaneously staging Bizet’s “Carmen”, the Metropolitan Opera and the Canadian Opera Company.  It seems that Carmen, the woman and the opera, generates headlines and shakes things up no matter where she goes.  At both houses, cancellations made headlines and understudies either impressed or didn’t, much to the chagrin or pleasure of devoted Carmenites. Here are some reviews of both productions.

From the Associated Press: Gheorghiu cancels remainder of Carmen at the Met

Angela Gheorghiu

Metropolitan Opera Carmen stars Franco’s thugs and a Latvian Diva: Bloomberg

Elina Garanca

She’s Got Castanets, so let Carmen Dance from the New York Times

A scene from this season’s production of “Carmen”: to dance or not to dance?

Last minute stand in Carmen saves Canadian Opera Company’s Carmen from La Scena Musicale

Rinat Shaham fires up Toronto

Seductive, Sultry Carmen heats up the COC’S 2009/10 Winter Season from La Scena Musicale

COC’S “Carmen”

Carmen, “whoever she is”, seduces her way into the Canadian Opera Company

A scene from the COC’s “tawdry” Carmen.

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Bizet’s audience favourite, “Carmen,” opened at the Four Seasons Center two nights ago.  The original announcement had Beth Clayton in the role of the seductive gypsy, but according to “Fashion Magazine,” Ms. Clayton announced her withdrawal from the role on January 20th, leaving little time for the COC to find replacements for a production that would begin in a few days.  The second announcement had Israelli mezzo-soprano, Rinat Shaham (above), replacing Clayton, who withdrew for “health reasons.”  Shaham is performing Jan. 27, 30, Feb. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, and her alternate, Anita Rachvelishvili on Feb. 17, 20, 23, 27.  Micaela is portrayed by Canadian soprano, Jessica Muirhead, Don Jose is played by both Bryan Hymel (above) and Garrett Sorenson, and Escamillo is Paul Gay.

In and of itself, Bizet’s opera was controversial in its day, for its fusion of comedy and tragedy, its gutsy realism, and in-your-face female heroine, the universally desired, Carmencita.  But, it seems that controversy follows Carmen wherever she goes, the COC notwithstanding.

Here are some reviews.  Enjoy.

COC Carmen too Tawdry by John Coulbourne of the QMI Agency

Trio of Singers Redeems Flawed Carmen from the Globe and Mail

Carmen in Eyeweekly.com

According to these, once again, the purity and authenticity of opera has been marred by producers and directors trying to project more from the opera than is actually necessary.  Actually, it’s more a “dumbing down”, which probably should offend the intelligence of operagoers.  If you strip it down to the nitty-gritty, opera says everything it needs to say, as it is.  I wonder whether directors feel that to make it “sexier,” “more disturbing,” or even “more interesting”, they need to over-emphasize the wonderful subtleties that audiences actually adore, subtleties that composers like Bizet, Verdi, and even Beethoven, already imbedded within their operatic fabric.  Have audiences changed all that much that we need it–whatever “it” is–shoved in our faces for fear we didn’t get it?   I think we get it!

Final performance of Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale” at the Canadian Opera Company, TONIGHT.

Some reviews for the COC’s visually stimulating production of Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale”

09-10-02-MC-D-0580-585A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale”

Tamara Goldstein\’s Review (Globe and Mail) October 19, 2009

John Coulbourn (Toronto Sun) October 18, 2009

John Kaplan (Toronto Now)

Heidi Waleson (Wall Street Journal) October 22, 2009

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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