Opera impresario Lotfi Mansouri dead at 84

Lotfi Mansouri, the Iranian-born opera company director who ran the San Francisco Opera and Toronto's Canadian Opera Company where he pioneered the use of supertitles in performances, died Aug. 30 at his home in San Francisco. He was 84. His death was the result of complications from pancreatic cancer, according to a statement released by the San Francisco Opera.

Mansouri also was a prolific stage director, overseeing productions at prominent opera houses in the U.S. and Europe, including the Metropolitan and New York City operas and La Scala in Milan. His productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago included Lehar's The Merry Widow" in 1986, Donizetti's "Anna Bolena" (with Joan Sutherland in her final performances at Lyric) in 1985, and Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus" in 1982. 

His dozen seasons as chief of the Canadian Opera, beginning in 1976, saw him direct 30 new productions. In Toronto in 1983, he introduced a simultaneous English translation of the German libretto to Strauss' "Elektra" in a video screen above the proscenium. The system, which came to be known as surtitles or supertitles, soon spread to leading opera companies throughout the world.

Mansouri's tenure with the San Francisco Opera, from 1988 to 2001, brought numerous commissions for new operas and revivals of deserving American works. These included Andre Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (which Lyric presented last season), Conrad Susa's "Dangerous Liaisons," Jake Heggie's "Dead Man Walking" and Stewart Wallace's "Harvey Milk."


--John von Rhein