Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Books

Book Review: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918

Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera.

Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger

Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris tells us about the lean times when the phone did not ring, as well as those thrilling moments when companies entrusted him with the most important roles in opera.

Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform

Commonly viewed as a ‘second-rate’ composer — a European radical persecuted by the Nazis whose trans-Atlantic emigration represented a sell-out to an inferior American popular culture —

Opera from Cambridge University Press

Although part of a series entitled Cambridge Introductions to Music, Robert Cannon’s wide-ranging, imaginative and thought-provoking survey of opera is certainly not a ‘beginners’ guide’.

James Melton: The Tenor of His Times

Those of us of a certain age have fond memories of James Melton, who entertained our parents starting in the 1930s and the rest of us in the 1940s and beyond on recordings, the radio, and films.

Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: Nave

An important new book on Italo Montemezzi sheds light on his opera Nave. The author/editor is David Chandler whose books on Alfredo Catalani have done so much to restore interest in the genre.

Alfredo Catalani — A new perspective on later Italian opera

Assumptions about later Italian opera are dominated by Puccini, but Alfredo Catalani, born in the same town and almost at the same time, was highly regarded by their contemporaries. Two new books on Catalani could change our perceptions.

The Sopranos — Dissecting opera’s fervent fans

I was feeling cowed by Herr Engels. The four of us had retired from the Stravinsky performance to a Billy Wilder-themed bar in Berlin, the least horrible late-night option in the high end mediocrity of Potsdamer Platz.

Opera Remade, 1700-1750

This substantial book is one of the latest in the Ashgate series of collected essays in opera studies and draws together articles from a disparate group of scholarly journals and collected volumes, some recent, some now difficult to locate.

Operatic Advice and Counsel…A Welcome New Reference Book

Vincent Giroud’s valuable new French Opera, a Short History, is in hand and very welcome it is.

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

The noted operatic impresario and stage director, Lotfi Mansouri, with the professional help of writer Donald Arthur, has issued his memoirs under the title Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey.

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth

Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Operatic Italian

Robert Stuart Thomson’s Italian language learning text, Operatic Italian, promises to become an invaluable textbook for aspiring operatic singers, voice teachers, coaches and conductors.

Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections

Ralph Locke’s recent book on Musical Exoticism is both an historical survey of aspects of the exotic in Western musical culture and a discussion of paradigms of the exotic and their relevance for musicological understanding.

Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests: The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater

Readers may recognize the author of this book, David J. Buch, a specialist on the origins of the libretto to Mozart’s Magic Flute.

Opera from the Greek

Perhaps it will be enough to tell you that I wasn’t halfway through this book before I searched the web for a copy of Professor Ewans’s study of Wagner and Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and ordered it forthwith: It has to be good.

Along the Roaring River

Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian was 30, when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Denver 1983.

Books 'n Things

Two excellent books on opera have come to hand, providing many hours of entertaining reading. I combine notice of them with a few thoughts about composer Paul Moravec’s CDs, and his forthcoming opera premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2009.

On Venetian Opera: a new edition of Monteverdi's Ritorno, and Eleanor Selfridge-Field on Time and Opera in Venice.

Claudio Monteverdi. Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Edited by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Urtext. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007. BA 8791. A vocal score is available as 8791a.

Handel's Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) from Bärenreiter

Published in 2007, Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) mark two of the latest installments of vocal-score editions of Handel’s operas based upon Bärenreiter’s Urtext editions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Books

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey
06 Aug 2010

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

The noted operatic impresario and stage director, Lotfi Mansouri, with the professional help of writer Donald Arthur, has issued his memoirs under the title Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey.

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

By Lotfi Mansouri; Donald Arthur, contrib. Northeastern University Press, 2010. 348 pp. 40 illus. 6 x 9".

ISBN: 978-1-55553-706-7

$39.95  Click to buy

The volume (over-priced at $39.95) might just as well have been called ‘the loves and hates of Lotfollah,’ well spiced with gossip, pay-back, and self-regard as it is. In other words, it is a business-as-usual celebrity memoir. But it is also a bit more, because in many ways Mansouri was a cut above.

To be serious about Mansouri, his long career producing opera in Europe and leading North American companies such as Canadian Opera in Toronto and the San Francisco Opera, accomplished much that was creative and remains positive for the opera world. Perhaps Mansouri’s finest hours were in Toronto, where he took a minor provincial opera company and developed it into a thoroughly professional operation capable of first rate performances, with excellent community outreach and support. He also was the earliest sponsor of ‘supertitles’ or singing texts projected over the stage during performances. His reputation in Canada remains strong and favorable, as it should.

Mansouri, born (1929) to a family of some prominence in Iran, and came to the US to study music much to the dismay of his father who wanted him enrolled in Scotland to study medicine, remains, for all his accomplishments, a controversial figure. His personal work in producing and stage-direction were, if generally traditional, usually competent and entertaining. He left Toronto with a good quality company, healthy and viable — far more so than he found it. San Francisco is another matter. He followed the tenure of the star-struck Terry McEwen, a recordings executive and bon vivant, with little interest in administration, who had attended well the needs of the superstars he loved to bring to the San Francisco stage, but did not bother with much more.

Mansouri’s noted success in Canada seemed to make him a fair choice to replace McEwen when “bad health” dictated McEwen’s retirement to Hawaii. But even before Mansouri was finally hired at SFO there were doubts about the fit. A friend on the SFO board telephoned me one winter evening at my home in St. Louis to discuss the pending Mansouri matter. “Many of us on the board do not think him sufficiently elegant to succeed here,” I was told, a comment received with some amusement. Mansouri seems to confirm such doubts, however, when he writes, “the Victorian Board room cast a glum shadow over much of my tenure” [p. 163], at San Francisco. Even early on, when in its first days, Mansouri did stage work at the Santa Fe Opera summer festival where general director John O. Crosby would refer to Mansouri as, “our Persian rug merchant.” His constant “Persian smile” (his term) did not always inspire confidence.

Mansouri and Arthur write an interesting narrative of rebuilding the SFO and restoring it to the luster of former years. Then, in 1989, the severe Loma Prieta earthquake struck, rendering the War Memorial Opera House structurally unsound. Rebuilding would be necessary, and in due course, Mansouri had the staggering, and as it proved, thankless job of finding temporary quarters for the company for several years, mounting operas under makeshift conditions in ill-suited venues, and keeping the company at least alive, if not thriving, until it was time to return to the reconstructed Van Ness Avenue opera house.

Somehow, from that point on, his career in San Francisco seemed to wane. He does not directly admit such, though his report is filled with tales of Board intrigue and dire politics. Most particularly, Mansouri undertakes a long diatribe of blame against Scots musician Donald Runnicles, a first-rate Wagner conductor who Mansouri had brought to SFO as music director, and who by the account of this book, spent increasing amounts of time undermining Mansouri in order to take over his job. Neither side won that battle, whatever it may have been, and by the late 1990s while a large repertory was being mounted each season, quality began to slip as budgets grew to record heights. I was much in attendance at San Francisco during that period, reviewing opera for a UK publication, and have rarely seen a major company provide so many ill-set or sloppy performances. Massenet’s tedious Herodiade was played, with an expensive all-star cast, looking as though it was set with scenery from several other shows, while standard repertory, such as Il trovatore, was indifferently given with singers hardly up to their assignments. Yet, an embarrassingly clichéd Carmen, directed by Mansouri himself, was in the same mix with a stylish and effective Lulu.

I well remember Mansouri’s disastrous casting of a striking red-haired American soprano as Isolde, whom I had last heard singing Massenet coloratura in Santa Fe, a singer who could not even get through a Wagner rehearsal without vocal collapse. “I didn’t think she could sing it,” Mansouri muttered in the aftermath, as the opera company scrambled for a replacement. During those days, Robert Commanday, the venerable Bay Area music critic and writer, said to me in the Opera press room one night, “Runnicles has abrogated his responsibilities; he should not allow this musical mismanagement to happen.” Mansouri’s retort to that can only be guessed, but it would not be favorable to Runnicles.

Yet, to give well-earned credit, Mansouri commissioned some operatic exploits that gave pleasure — notably Dead Man Walking, a memorable evening of music theatre composed by a SFO employee, Jake Heggie — a piece that has now entered standard repertory. A new opera, Harvey Milk, a production shared with Houston, was interestingly mounted, and Dangerous Liaisons by another local composer, Conrad Susa, in a strong production, found some approval, while a certain amount of success was enjoyed by Andre Previn’s first operatic effort, A Streetcar Named Desire, which stage director Colin Graham called “a play with incidental music, and Renée Fleming.” Meow. I thought Mansouri’s effort to expand repertory and support contemporary opera was valid, and made with above the usual results for such. One can only imagine the things that might have happened under his direction — for example, he reveals he really wanted Sondheim or Henze (!) to write the Tennessee Williams opera that eventually devolved to Previn (by no means a composer of Sondheim or Henze stature).

SFO did not end well for Mansouri; his contract was not renewed and he had to produce his own farewell gala in 2001, apparently not a particularly warm occasion. Soon enough his even more controversial successor, Pamela Rosenberg from the German opera world, was installed in Mansouri’s wake at SFO, only to depart five years later. But that is another story, no doubt featuring “the Victorian board.”

Meanwhile, in spite of its cost, the worthwhile Mansouri book contains much of value and interest to opera aficionados and historians of the art-form.

© J. A. Van Sant/Santa Fe

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):