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
, 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.”