Saturday, January 22, 2005


Pamela Rosenberg doesn’t fill me with rage the way Lotfi Mansouri often did. An acquaintance explained that he married money and that that was the explanation for him.

Early in his tenure there was a financial crisis which he resolved creatively—he hired someone to do all the productions very cheaply. The problem was that they were all the same dismal, abstract brown and very depressing. This did the trick—crisis over.

Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel calls for the nuns to strip off their clothing in a lunatic rage at the end. The heroine wore a body stocking, as I recall, but the other disrobing nuns were rumored to come from the local strip joint in the Tenderloin owned by the Mitchell brothers. (Their successful long-running partnership ended with one of them shooting the other.) Fine. What’s a little nudity here or there?

But other operas that season seemed suddenly populated with naked individuals. Finally a reason to bring binoculars to the opera, used to search all crowd scenes to find the nude ones. Oh, he could drive me into a rage.

He imported entire productions from the Kirov Opera. The Fiery Angel was one of these, as a matter of fact. Who could forget the incredible Ruslan and Lyudmila with Anna Netrebko in her spectacular American debut? Both productions were conducted by Valery Gergiev when we could still afford him.

One of the great scandals also took place during the tenure of Lotfi Mansouri. It is good to remember that Adler had to interest us entirely without benefit of supertitles. The only rule for supertitles is that the audience must never laugh at them. They can explain something funny on the stage, but must never themselves be the source of laughter. The drama is on the stage and not in the titles.

So perhaps some operas we are better off not knowing. La Gioconda is one of these. The plot and the action are ludicrous and the supertitles tell you just how ludicrous. Eva Marton in the role of La Gioconda simply stopped singing when the audience laughed and said, “It’s not funny.”

Adler simply wanted to be the best and nothing less would do.

McEwan came to his post from the recording industry and stayed with his strengths.

Mansouri was eclectic and often crass, but carried the opera through some rough times. And he is an excellent stage director.

Rosenberg stays with her vision when all is collapsing around her. This is both her strength and her profound weakness. We’re not sure we share her vision, and we are certainly not willing to see the opera die because of it.

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