By Alexander Neef, General Director
I was very saddened to learn of Lotfi Mansouri’s death two weeks ago. I knew he had been ill, and the prognosis wasn’t good, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the loss I felt when I heard he’d passed away.
As everyone who came into contact with him knows, Lotfi was full of life. His enthusiasm for life, and especially opera was infectious. A simple recounting of his many accomplishments while at the head of the COC paints a clear picture of how he communicated his love for this company and his community.
Lotfi implemented a longer performance season, programmed more adventurous repertoire and productions, instituted advance artistic and financial planning, established the COC Orchestra and invigorated the Chorus, enhanced the COC’s international reputation by bringing in singers of world-renown, and created the country’s first and premier training program for young artists, the Ensemble Studio.
Perhaps Lotfi’s single most important innovation at the COC – one that transformed the way the public interacts with opera today – was the creation of SURTITLESTM. Unveiled at the COC’s 1983 production of Elektra, it was the very first time any opera house in the world had projected simultaneous translations for its audience. SURTITLESTM completely revolutionized the live opera experience, and it is very rare to find any opera house in the world that does not use a version today.
These accomplishments – and many others – laid the foundation for the company we are today.
Personally, Lotfi was just as generous. He was very supportive of me and my new role here from the moment I started. Over the years we would make a point of visiting each other and spending evenings over dinner and spirited conversation – there was never any shortage of topics! Although we may not have always agreed on everything, he realized that we shared the same passion for the art form, and that’s what brought us close.
The last time we saw Lotfi at the COC was when we hosted a special event for the launch of his book Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey in September 2010. He kindly sat down with me in front of an audience to answer questions about his time at the COC and all that he had accomplished since leaving.
I am privileged to have known him, and proud to have considered him a friend.
Photo credits: (top) Lotfi Mansouri, 1986. Photo by Tony Hauser; (middle) Lotfi Mansouri and the Canadian Opera Company van. Photo by Gary Beechey; (middle) Joan Sutherland and Lotfi Mansouri, 1980; (middle) A scene from the Canadian Opera Company's 1983 production of Elektra; (bottom) Lotfi Mansouri and Alexander Neef.
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In case you missed it, read Alexander's European Summer Festivals: Part I.
As in Bayreuth, seeing colleagues from the cultural world mixed nicely with wonderful opera at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. When you travel alone, it’s really nice to meet people you know at the theatre in the evenings, so I was very grateful to the people in the festival’s protocol office. They kindly sat three lonely travelers together for three nights: me, Jonathan Friend, the Metropolitan Opera’s artistic administrator, and Catherine Pégard, the President of Versailles (who I knew during my time at the Paris Opera when she was the cultural advisor for the Président de la Republique.)
I was pleased to see Robert Carsen’s new Rigoletto in the Festival’s outdoor Théâtre d’Archevêché, which has been set up in the courtyard of the old archbishop’s palace. Robert has set his new production in a circus, which suited the outdoor setting extremely well.
Evening in Aix-en-Provence
Over at the indoor Grand Théâtre de Provence, Patrice Chéreau’s Elektra was the Festival’s event of the season. Chéreau’s attention to detail and intensity of his direction create one breathtaking moment after another. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Orchestre de Paris was Chéreau’s equal in every way. One member of the fantastic cast was our own Adrianne Pieczonka, memorable in her role debut as Chrysothemis. If you are interested, I believe the Festival has made the production available online for a period of time. Try to watch it if you can.
I especially wanted to go to Aix this year as it’s my last chance to see our co-production of Don Giovanni before it comes to Toronto. I have now seen it three times – at its premiere in Aix in 2010, and in Madrid this past March with Russell Braun in the lead role. Each time I see it, I appreciate its qualities and intelligence more. Tcherniakov’s vision is so specific and so consuming that it demands total commitment from the cast. It requires an equal commitment from its audience, but it’s a truly mesmerizing production, one that, I am happy to report, was very successful with the Aix public.
From Aix, I flew to London for two nights at Glyndebourne and two nights at the Proms. Going to Glyndebourne is a whole ritual. You board a train mid-afternoon in downtown London, with people wearing long gowns and tuxes, carrying their picnic baskets. Dinner is eaten on the lawn both before the show and during the 90-minute intermissions.
Pre-show at Glyndebourne, and, no rain!
Although I admit that my fondness for French baroque opera is limited, I did make a point of seeing Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie. William Christie and his Arts Florissants were frequent collaborators with Paris Opera when I was there, and it was lovely to see them again. They are simply the best at this repertoire. In addition, I was happy to see an old acquaintance of mine from the Rurh Festival, Stéphane Degout, as a wonderful Thésée.
I returned two nights later for a delightful production of Don Pasquale, and loved getting a chance to see Alessandro Corbelli in the title role. Not only is he a born comic actor, he also perfectly inhabits every nuance of the Italian text. It was really a masterclass in how an opera buffa should be performed.
When I put this trip together, my plan was to create my own personal Ring Cycle by seeing the first two, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Bayreuth, and the final two, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. I’ve never been there before, and it was an amazing experience! The tight attention of 6000 people listening to Wagner’s work in the vast space – with no amplification! – created some palpable excitement which inspired the amazing casts.
Conductor Daniel Barenboim has been working with the Berlin Staatsoper for so long that the communication with his musicians is almost intuitive. It’s unbelievably impressive, and they play like gods! His total command of every detail and the overall architecture of the piece is absolutely astonishing, and the dramatic urgency he created was masterful. Not a single bar of the piece felt without purpose and, above all, his reading was infused with a visible, deep love for Wagner’s music. It was as good as anything I have heard live or on record. In fact, the Siegfried was probably the best performance of a Wagner opera that I’ve ever heard.
Here’s the curtain call after Götterdämmerung.
Photos: (top) Alexander Neef; (middle)Aix-en-Provence; (middle) Glyndebourne; (bottom) Curtain call at the BBC Proms production of Götterdämmerung, 2013. Photo credits: (top) bohuang.ca; (middle, bottom) Alexander Neef.
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By Meighan Szigeti, Associate Manager, Digital Marketing
Like Wagner's Die Walküre before it, Puccini’s La Bohème is one of those popular operas that seeps into our pop-culture subconscious. Many audience members who are new to opera might hear a duet or an aria from La Bohème and suddenly exclaim “oh THAT’S where I’ve heard that!” or “That was in Moonstruck?! Wow, I need to become more cultured.”
Well, that last point may not be the case... but if you find yourself wondering if La Bohème is well represented in TV and movies (aside from Rent, let's focus on the lesser-known references you may have missed), here are a few examples of where you have have seen Puccini’s most-performed opera referenced by other pop-culture creators:
It took The Simpsons almost 19 seasons to do it, but in episode 402, opera finally makes a significant appearance! In "The Homer of Seville" episode, Homer finds himself unexpectedly acquiring new operatic singing abilities after an injury — but only when he’s lying down. His singing impediment does require a bit of a rewrite of the libretto (“Rudolfo, why are you lying down?” “I hurt my foot.”), but Monty Burns (General Director, Artistic Director and founder of the Springfield Opera) doesn't seem to mind. Even opera stars like Plácido Domingo, or “P Dingo” as he calls himself, made an appearance in that episode and Homer became an opera star — for a short time.
There may have been a few rewrites...
Nic Cage and Cher in front of the Met in Moonstruck.
Remember Moonstruck? It’s easy to think of the famous “Snap out of it!” scene, but Moonstruck uses opera and La Bohème to illustrate a heartbreaking and even illicit passion between Nick Cage’s character Ronny to Cher’s Loretta. (If you don’t remember — in short, Loretta is engaged to Ronny’s estranged brother Johnny, a very operatic plot-line.) As Loretta watches Mimì's heartbreak unfold, her own heart breaks as she realizes her connection to Johnny is a love she also must leave behind. (Trivia time! The opera scene was shot in the Elgin Theatre and the Mimi and Rodolfo on stage are played by Ensemble Studio grads John Fanning and Martha Collins!)
"Listen, under the pillow I left my pink bonnet."
"Se vuoi, Se vuoi" (It's yours, it's yours)"
"Keep it as a memory of our love."
"Addio, addio senza rancor." (Goodbye, no regrets).
Talk about a meta-heartbreak scene.
Kate and Leopold
“Why yes, this is my time-travelling steed…”
Not exactly the finest of movies, but even La Bohème has its place in this cheesy romcom. Kate and Leopold is a story about a time-travelling Duke (Hugh Jackman) from the 19th century who winds up in the 21st century and falls in love with a cynical 21st century woman, played by Meg Ryan. Yes, you read that right. However, by using his knowledge of La Bohème, Leopold schools a rival for Kate’s affections, correcting Kate’s arrogant boss in his many mistakes when talking about Puccini’s masterpiece (though here’s some movie trivia for you: according to moviemistakes.com, Leopold was from 1876 — twenty years before La Bohème even premiered. Maybe he read a little bit of Murger's La vie de bohème, which inspired the opera?) But, oh well, he showed up his lady love’s jerky boss and subsequently won over the girl!
As you can see, references to La Bohème are everywhere. Another favourite? When "O Soave Fanciulla" is used in a key scene in Atonement. But did you also know the music from La Bohème was also used in action movies Deep Impact and The Deerhunter? What are your favourite pop culture references for La Bohème? Let us know in the comments!
You can learn more about our fall production of Puccini's oft-referenced opera here.
Photos: (top) Simpsons, 2007. 20th Century Fox ;(middle) Simpsons, 2007. 20th Century Fox; (middle) Moonstruck, 1987. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; (bottom) Kate and Leopold, 2001. Miramax Films.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001