The most influential man on the Toronto opera scene? That would be Guillermo Silva-Marin. His biographer and collaborator Henry Ingram put it this way:
Singer, teacher, director, producer, impresario, musician…each of these words describes Guillermo Silva-Marin and sometimes he is all these in a single day.
It’s hard to hit a moving target, but I managed to persuade Silva-Marin, or “Bill” as he’s known to his friends, to consent to an interview, because I believe people need to know more about this self-effacing powerhouse. He’s an oxymoron, because he’s dynamic without being an egomaniac, effective without cracking a whip or raising his voice (except perhaps when he sings). I was fortunate to meet him relatively early on, when he was an up and coming baritone, then later a tenor. I recall his charming presence as Scaramuccio in Lotfi Mansouri’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos at the COC, a role which he would also cover at the Met.
Stuart Hamilton chose to pass the torch — leadership of Opera in Concert (OiC), one of the artistic treasures of this city– to Silva-Marin. It’s scary to imagine what this city might be like if he hadn’t chosen to settle here, as Bill went on to found another important company in this city, namely Toronto Operetta Theatre(TOT); and he’s the driving force behind Summer Opera Lyric Theatre (SOLT). These three institutions are key stepping stones for singers learning their craft, undertaking new roles, and showcasing their talents.
The Opera In Concert season has just ended, and now it’s on to La Vie Parisienne from TOT. And then it’s on to SOLT’s 2013 opera workshop, which culminates in a series of public performances at the Robert Gill Theatre, University of Toronto to showcase the artists and their work.
I ask Guillermo Silva-Marin ten questions: five about himself, and five about his roles as General Director of Opera in Concert, Toronto Operetta Theatre and Summer Opera Lyric Theatre
1) Which one of your parents do you most look like (what is your nationality / ethnic background)?
I look like my father Juan Osvaldo – very Hispanic look with a 50% Spanish blood.
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being an impresario presenting opera & operetta?
Best thing has always been working with Canadian talent at the height of their powers and young emerging ones with their great enthusiasm and energy.
Worst thing, not having enough time to do it all. I need 24 hours extra a day.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I listen to music, any kind. I watch documentaries, the news and TVO/PBS (anything)
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have? –
Foresight, I wish I could tell the future but I am resigned.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Reading – philosophy, murder mysteries, the classics, religions
Five Questions about work with Opera in Concert, Toronto Operetta Theatre and Summer Opera Lyric Theatre (SOLT):
1) How does being the General Director of Opera in Concert challenge you?
The company is small and works under financial restrictions. This spills over into the ability to safeguard the artistic process and complement what the artists bring to the table.
The greatest challenge is to provide a forum that is supportive to the creative process within a limited time span. We solve this with accurate timetables, tight schedules and open discussion of objectives. We try to make sure everyone understands the challenge, artistic, musical, dramatic, financial and managerial.
2) What do you love about presenting operas & operettas in Toronto?
We deal in innovation and daring artistic programming. Every day there is discovery, a Pandora’s box environment – surprises. I thrive and love the challenges and so do the artists working under my guidance.
3) Out of the complex planning and development cycle, what’s your favourite moment when you mount an opera or operetta?
There are no specific moments but a process that evolves as you face new and fresh developments. The process is organic and unpredictable to a point but never inflexible or static.
4) How do you relate to the opera community as a 21st century man?
I have the privilege to introduce new works to our community and our artists. There lies the beauty of my position among the tapestry of arts organizations in Canada. I wish there were more resources to do more.
5) Is there a teacher, singer, or an influence that you especially admire?
There are many teachers but Stuart Hamilton comes to mind and the late Dixie Ross Neill.