Lotfi Mansouri, who led the Canadian Opera Company from 1976 until 1988, died in San Francisco on August 31 of this year. He left an indelible mark on the COC. When I interviewed him for The WholeNote seven years ago, he said right at the start of our conversation, “Opera really is the most wonderful art form in the world!”. That passion for opera shaped his work, and his life.
In the international opera world Mansouri will be best remembered for inventing Surtitles. The idea of projecting a translation of the libretto during an opera performance, like subtitles on a television broadcast, came to him while he was at home in Toronto with his wife Midge, watching an opera on TV. His idea revolutionized opera-going. It allowed audiences to understand what singers were singing while they were singing. The first outing for Surtitles was on January 21, 1983, during Mansouri’s staging of Elektra for the COC, when they appeared on a screen above the proscenium at the O’Keefe Centre (later renamed the Hummingbird Centre, now the Sony Centre). Opera history was made in Toronto that evening.