Lotfi Mansouri, 1929 – 2013

San Francisco Opera’s Fourth General Director and Internationally Acclaimed Stage Director Has Passed Away

 

On Friday, August 30, 2013, Lotfi Mansouri, San Francisco Opera’s distinguished fourth general director and one of the world’s leading opera stage directors, passed away after a brief illness with pancreatic cancer at his San Francisco home surrounded by family. Mansouri, an exuberant and passionate advocate of opera as “the greatest art form ever created,” was age 84. This page is a tribute to Mansouri the artist, administrator, and friend to opera lovers around the world. Memorial plans and arrangements will be announced at a later date.

Press Release


Biography

Renowned opera director  and impresario LOTFI MANSOURI led two of the most important opera companies in North America and has directed productions throughout the world. But he will perhaps best be known for changing how opera audiences experienced the art form, through supertitles.

Born in 1929 in Teheran, Iran, Lotfollah Mansouri left his native country to study medicine at UCLA, but music won out. From 1960 to 1966 he served as resident stage director of the Zurich Opera. For the next decade he served as head stage director at the Geneva Opera, while also directing productions at leading opera houses in Europe and the United States, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera, the Dallas Opera, and both the Metropolitan and New York City Opera companies. During his career, Mansouri worked with virtually of the greatest stars of his generation and forged lasting relationships with many of them, in particular Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and conductor Richard Bonynge.

In 1976, Mansouri became general director of the Canadian Opera Company, where he directed thirty new productions, twelve of them Canadian premieres, including Berg’s Lulu and Britten’s Death in Venice. In 1983, he revolutionized opera by projecting supertitles— translated lyrics projected above a stage—at a performance of Elektra; a system that is now used ubiquitously worldwide.

He moved on to the San Francisco Opera in 1988 where he became the Company’s fourth general director, a position he held until 2001. Under Mansouri's leadership, San Francisco Opera established the Pacific Visions program to commission new works and to perform little-known ones. The project led to some of the most compelling operas of our time, including Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons, André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk, and Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Among his many honors are the title of chevalier of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a 2009 lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors.

Mansouri made his San Francisco Opera debut in the 1963 season directing productions of Dialogues des Carmélites, Die Walküre, La Sonnambula, La Traviata, Mefistofele, and Samson et Dalila. He directed more than seventy-five productions with the Company, and during his tenure as general director, numerous artists made their U.S. operatic debuts and six productions were recorded for telecast and videocassette (Mefistofele, Orlando Furioso, Capriccio, Turandot, The Dangerous Liaisons, and A Streetcar Named Desire). Mansouri’s 1979 production of La Gioconda was the Company’s first to receive a live international telecast. Also during his tenure, San Francisco Opera made its first commercial recordings: Hérodiade, Orphée et Eurydice, Harvey Milk, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Dead Man Walking. He established the historic exchange with the Kirov Opera that resulted in productions of War and Peace featuring the American opera debut of conductor Valery Gergiev, Boris Godunov, The Fiery Angel, Ruslan and Lyudmila featuring the U.S. opera debut of soprano Anna Netrebko, Eugene Onegin, and Betrothal in a Monastery.

Among his greatest accomplishments at San Francisco Opera, Mansouri led the Company through the after effects of the 1989 earthquake with performances at the Masonic Auditorium before the War Memorial Opera House reopened some ten days later. Additionally, Mansouri with then-San Francisco Opera Board President William Godward, managed the difficult transition through the closure and seismic renovation of the Opera House in 1996-97, presenting innovative productions at nearby venues of Civic Auditorium, Golden Gate Theatre, and Orpheum Theatre which included a highly successful “Broadway Style” presentation of La Boheme. In 1999, he was honored with a gala concert for more than a decade of leadership and thirty-seven years of artistic collaboration, and in 2001 he was awarded the prestigious San Francisco Opera Medal—the Company’s highest honor awarded to an artistic professional.

Mansouri’s association with the film industry includes his own starring role in Frank Borzage’s 1956 film The Day I Met Caruso; followed later as director of the opera sequences for the 1981 MGM movie Yes Giorgio starring Luciano Pavarotti, and the 1987 movie Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicholas Cage.

Mansouri is the author of Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey, Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Life, and True Tales from the Mad, Mad, Mad World of Opera.

In October 2009, a bas-relief of Lotfi Mansouri’s likeness was ceremoniously installed in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House main foyer. The accompanying plaque features a quote that accurately summarizes his genuine and joyful enthusiasm for the art form: “opera is the greatest artistic banquet created by the human mind with something for every taste.”

at San Francisco Opera

Productions directed and originated by Lotfi Mansouri

1963
Dialogues of the Carmelites
Die Walküre
La Sonnambula
La Traviata
Mefistofele
Samson et Dalila
1964
Gianni Schicchi
Il Trovatore
La Traviata
Pagliacci
The Bartered Bride
Turandot
1965
Andrea Chénier
La Bohème
La Fanciulla del West
1967
La Gioconda
L'Elisir d'Amore
Manon Lescaut
Un Ballo in Maschera
1968
Fra Diavolo
1969
L'Elisir d'Amore
1970
Carmen
Tosca
1972
L'Africaine
1973
Die Fledermaus
1974
Esclarmonde
La Fille du Régiment
1975
Andrea Chénier
L'Elisir d'Amore
Werther
1979
La Gioconda
1980
Don Pasquale
1981
Il Trovatore
1982
Norma
1983
La Gioconda
1984
Anna Bolena
1985
Adriana Lecouvreur
1986
Manon
1987
Les Contes d'Hoffmann
1988
L'Africaine
1989
Lulu
1990
Die Fledermaus
Wozzeck
1991
Attila
Tristan und Isolde
1992
Andrea Chénier
Christophe Colomb
Guillaume Tell
1993
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Vec Makropulos
Der Rosenkavalier
1994
Hérodiade
Macbeth
Tannhäuser
1995
Don Giovanni
Ruslan and Lyudmila
1996
Carmen
Die Fledermaus
1997
Salome
Death in Venice
Guillaume Tell
Tosca
1998
Carmen
Lulu
1999
Louise
Nabucco
Wozzeck
2000
Don Giovanni
Viva! Domingo
Der Rosenkavalier
L'Elisir d'Amore 
The Tsar's Bride
2001
Die Lustige Witwe 
Tosca
2004
Tosca
2006
Die Fledermaus
2007
Der Rosenkavalier
2009
Tosca
2012
Tosca