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Lotfi Mansouri

An Operatic Journey

Lotfi Mansouri

Publication Year: 2010

Lotfi Mansouri has lived a full life in opera: triumphs and near disasters, divas and divos, moneymen and true artists, he has known them all. In this entertaining and engaging memoir, Mansouri lifts the curtain and invites the reader to see how magic is created on stage. He has lived a storied life: early years in Iran, move to America, long stays in Europe and Canada, directing tasks on several continents, and a brilliant final act as the general director of the San Francisco Opera, all the while continuing to mount productions worldwide. He has known virtually everybody in the opera world over the past fifty years, and has collaborated with some of the greatest. Mansouri was also a central figure in the recent rejuvenation of opera through innovations such as supertitles and, perhaps more important, the staging and commissioning of new works that would appeal to a contemporary audience, such as SFO's production of The Death of Klinghoffer, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Dead Man Walking. Mansouri isn't shy about dropping names and bruising some egos (even his own). Anyone who wants to know what the opera world is really like can now find out in the company of a charming and expert guide.

Published by: Northeastern University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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Prologue: Staging My Own Funeral

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pp. 1-12

It was one of those events that really trigger mixed feelings.
.On the one hand, a gala evening at the San Francisco Opera is always a thrilling occasion for me, a reencounter with a number of talented friends from the profession, past and present, as well as the dignitaries...

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1. Paradoxes in Persia

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pp. 13-28

My life began in contradiction.
It was a sweltering June day in 1929. At my parents’ home in Tehran, my mother, Mehri, was undergoing a very difficult birth. It was so painful and bloody that the midwife thought both mother and baby would probably die. As soon as I emerged, they put me on a block of...

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2. Lotfi in La-La Land

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pp. 29-51

I could not have asked for a better transitional threshold to my new life than Beirut, which back then, although still part of the Middle East, was very much like the south of France with its elegant boulevards, new Hollywood films, and American University. I arrived there and settled...

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3. Americans to the Rescue

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pp. 52-60

When Europe beckoned, I did what any aspiring young professional would have done: I packed my bags without looking back. I had meanwhile become a U.S. citizen, and I truly loved my adopted country, but Europe was the birthplace of opera, after all, and I needed...

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4. The Swiss Connection

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pp. 61-80

Dr. Herbert Graf, who had brought me to Zurich, was one of the seminal figures in twentieth-century opera. His father, Dr. Max Graf, a pupil of Eduard Hanslick and Anton Bruckner, was a distinguished musicologist and educator, as well as one of the leading music critics...

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5. Iranian Intermezzo

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pp. 81-95

I n 1965, Dr. Graf was appointed general director of the Geneva Opera, and he immediately asked me to join him as principal stage director. Needless to say, I was happy to accept. I expected Professor Doktor Juch to react angrily, but to my surprise, he asked me to continue my...

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6. Back on Track

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pp. 96-107

I returned to Iran once or twice a year for five years as artistic adviser to the company, although I stipulated that I would fly there only on Swissair. One flight on Iranian Airlines in those days, complete with people lounging in the aisles smoking their pipes, was enough. After looking...

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7. North of the Border

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pp. 108-122

In early 1974, I was contacted by Dr. Herman Geiger-Torel, general director of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Ontario. Although I had already directed two productions in Vancouver, in 1967 and 1968, I wasn’t quite sure where Toronto was, what people did there, or what it...

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8. The Road Back to Tinsel Town

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pp. 123-129

In so many ways, my life was like a four-ring circus, with the main three rings anchored in my various home theaters: they involved planning and logistics, artistic administration, and staging my own productions. In the fourth ring were my far-flung assignments, directing opera as a...

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9. From Provincial to World Class

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pp. 130-148

The Canadian Opera Company’s orchestra began as a student ensemble. As the company became more proficient, professional musicians were also hired. In 1968, the board signed an agreement with the distinguished Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and that ensemble played in our...

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10. Open Your Golden Gate!

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pp. 149-164

I first directed a production at the San Francisco Opera in 1963. You might say it was love at first sight. I was invited back, season after season, and I always looked forward to my time in the City by the Bay and its jewel of an opera house. In 1988, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary...

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11. Mother Nature Gives an Encore

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pp. 165-199

Everybody wants to be a critic, including, apparently Mother Nature. And nowhere has she vented her critical spleen more devastatingly than she did twice during opera seasons in that beautiful City by the Bay...

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12. Leaving My Heart

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pp. 200-215

I managed to open Tosca—barely. Conductor Nello Santi and our stars, Carol Vaness, Richard Margison, and James Morris, rose to the occasion, and the production introduced a young basso from Canada making his San Francisco debut in the small but important role of Cesare...

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13. An Operatic Voice for North America

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pp. 216-259

At some point in almost every published recollection of an operatic career, there is a chapter taking a position on modern developments in operatic production. I’d like to skip that chapter in my book: being a stage director myself, still active in a long career with roots...

14. Lords and Ladies of the Larynx, Potentates of the Podium: Mansouri’s Gallery of Illustrious Colleagues

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pp. 260-293

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Epilogue: Still in Progress

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pp. 295-296

What an incredible half-century! Over these years, I have helped make opera happen in nearly five hundred productions—in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Argentina...

Appendix A: Films and DVDs

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pp. 297-300

Appendix B: Productions Directed by Mansouri

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pp. 301-308


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pp. 309-330

E-ISBN-13: 9781555537524
E-ISBN-10: 1555537529
Print-ISBN-13: 9781555537067

Page Count: 348
Publication Year: 2010