Featuring: Iain Scott

A profile for the
“L. A. M. P. S.  Letter”

– the Newsletter of the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto –

November 2002

by Duggan Melhuish


As I park in the driveway of Iain Scott’s North Toronto home I notice that the licence plate of the car before me reads: “Ontario – OPERA IS – Yours To Discover”.

Soon ensconced on a comfy divan in the Scott’s elegant living room, with coffee in hand and surrounded by a zillion opera CD’s, Iain, wearing an impish grin, explains that he has simply employed the D.O.T. standard licence framework to promote his passion for opera in general and his brand new, second career, entrepreneurial enterprise bearing the logo, OPERA-IS (for Iain Scott!), in particular.

Risking a dampening of his simmering enthusiasm to expound on his new career, I ask him to back-track, to start at the beginning, to fill in my blanks.

Iain grew up in Dollar, located north of Edinburgh, Scotland, a village of 5000 inhabitants at the time – 2000 homo-sapiens and 3000 sheep. Following a basic ‘public school’ education, he attended famed St. Andrews University, graduating with a Masters in Medieval History. Plans to be an academic historian and to write the definitive study of 13th Century Siena aborted when he joined the International side of prestigious Royal Dutch Shell. Overcoming the hurdle of what do with an academic historian, R.D.S. found a role for Iain in the U.K. and The Hague for two years, after which time he was dispatched to Canada in 1972.

Flouting a head office directive not to fraternize with the natives, for fear of losing sight of the brass rings of future promotions, Iain promptly met his wife Barbara within one week of his arrival. Somewhat later, shunning a directive to report to foreign lands, he and Barbara were married in 1974, and Iain opted to transfer to Shell Canada. They sent him to Vancouver. There, he spent nine rewarding years including wonderful involvements with the Symphony, PlayHouse and Opera, as well as a grinding experience of obtaining an Executive MBA, at night, from Simon Fraser University.

Having become a ‘downsizing’ human resources expert, Shell called Iain back to Toronto where his expertise was needed at Head Office. When Shell’s Head Office moved to Calgary, he chose a severance package rather than leave Toronto. Determined to put his MBA to work in a role of advisor to a CEO, he joined an international hi-tech firm ripe for a turn-around. In 1984, mission accomplished, he joined Deloitte, Haskins + Sells, a leading Canadian C.A. firm, where he established a meaningful Human Resource function. Following that firm’s merger in 1989 he moved on to William Mercer to assume similar developmental HR responsibilities.

In the spring of 2002, surfeited with the Bay Street world’s business priorities, and full of latent energy, Iain made a risky cum courageous decision … he decided on an taking an entrepreneurial fling, thus establishing OPERA-IS.

Iain first caught the opera disease, (to which, he explains, 95% of the population is immune), at the age of 22, during his early years with Shell. On a dark and stormy night on visit to the home of his manager/mentor in the mud flats of Essex he discovered opera. His host, with whom he shared cultural interests, distraught over a harrowing happening that day, sought brief respite over much scotch and endless playings of a 45 rpm Wagner disc. Talk ensued and by the wee small hours Iain, smitten by the opera bug, was inspired to embark on the aim of learning all he could about this newly discovered art form. Following the precept that you really only thoroughly understand something when you can explain it well to someone else, he studied and studied, opera after opera.

Upon moving to Vancouver Iain joined the Opera Board, and, of an evening before each performance would don his tuxedo, and perforce, hold forth in the lobby, explaining to the gathering throng what they were about to see and hear.

When he returned to Toronto in 1983, he taught at the U. of T.’s School of Continuing Studies: – ten evening classes of an “Opera 101” nature in the fall, followed by a ten-evening series each winter, focusing on different aspects of opera, each never to be repeated over the fourteen years of this teaching period. In 1990 he was the recipient of the ‘Outstanding Teacher Award’, as determined by the student body.

In 1998, frustrated over attempts to funnel student fee monies, in excess of his modicum teaching honorarium, to the Faculty of Music’s Opera School, he formed a teaching organization of his own. This enabled him to donate $75,000 directly to the Opera School, dear to his heart because of its critical role in nurturing budding singers of opera. As a result of this endeavour and other similar ventures, Iain was awarded the Government of Ontario’s Volunteer Service Award in 1990 and the U. of T.’s Arbor Award for outstanding volunteer service in 2000.

In further quest of sharing his knowledge of opera with like-minded people, Iain became a regular panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz from the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1987-1995) and for the past eighteen years has been a quiz panelist and commentator on the C.B.C.’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

Iain was first introduced to the Arts & Letters Club in 1972 by Shell colleague Wentworth Walker, who invited him to many lunches. Then, in 1974, friend and Shell colleague Peter Large was his primary membership sponsor. Ever since, Iain has been a frequent feature speaker at Club Nights and Music Tables.

Does he have some favourite opera composers? Yes, he does. “Clearly Verdi, Wagner, and Mozart are the leaders of the pack of outstanding composers. Why? Because more than all the others, those three consistently speak to us on a variety of different and deeper levels of multi experience, and implicitly teach us about compassion and human understanding – thus, what it means to be a human being”.

So now, Iain offers, through “OPERA-IS”, an opportunity to attend his opera Introductory Courses in the fall and his Insight Series in the winter time. In addition, real opera aficionados can sign up to go on European tours with him – for example to the Great Opera Houses of Northern Italy this fall – and, in 2003, four different tours running spring through fall.

Interview complete, I’m about to depart when mine host insists I visit his ‘Research Centre’, located in the bowels of his elegant dwelling. I have never seen such a jumble of organized chaos! – another zillion opera CD’s; a plethora of opera videos on VHS and now DVD’s; LP records; opera visual discs; a definitive library of opera books and stacks of periodicals.

And, amid that wonderful mess, for which he uncomfortably apologizes, I’ll bet the very focused Iain Scott can put his finger on any opera subject matter of one’s choice within the twinkling of an eye.

Duggan Melhuish