Iain Scott – a Profile

For “The Annex Gleaner”

December 2002

by   Anita Malhotra


“Ninety-five per cent of the population is immune to opera,” Iain Scott tells a class of adult students at the University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College. “Even among opera goers, Wagnerians are among the lunatic fringe . . . It is my objective to show you tonight that you can learn to love Wagner in two hours.”

What follows is a 120-minute intellectual voyage in which Scott explains the concepts needed to understand Wagner’s work, shows video excerpts from his operas, and makes reference to Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Princess Diana, Halloween, Seinfeld, and his relationship with his own 22-year-old daughter.

But Scott isn’t wandering off topic. He’s displaying the dynamic speaking style that helped earn him a U of T Outstanding Teacher Award in 1992, and also makes him a popular opera lecturer and radio commentator in North America.

“I think he is a wonderful, wonderful encyclopedia,” says student Olga Fershaloff, a self-described opera lover. “He knows opera inside out and he is a wonderful teacher, because he conveys it.”

Scott has taught opera classes on the U of T campus for 18 years, 14 of them through the School of Continuing Studies and the last four independently. His classes are so popular (they often attract 100 students at a time) that over the last three years he has been able to donate $75,000 in profits to the university’s opera school. He also gives similar courses in downtown Toronto, Burlington and Oakville.

“Adult education is probably the most thrilling form of education there is,” says Scott, who during our interview wears a business suit and a musically themed tie, one of about 50 in his collection. “There’s nothing quite as engaging as a group of people who are there because they really want to learn.”

Scott, who grew up in Scotland (“in a small village of 2,000 people and 3,000 sheep,” he quips), came to opera relatively late. After earning a master’s degree in medieval history at the University of St. Andrews, he joined the international branch of Royal-Dutch/Shell as a management trainee in 1969. Stationed at an oil refinery near London, England, and feeling “very much a fish out of water,” the 22-year-old was smitten by opera when he heard the famous “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at his boss’s house one night.

“We talked late into the night about the record, and I ended up saying, ‘I’ve got to learn about that stuff,’ ” says Scott.

Scott’s career with Shell brought him in 1972 to Toronto, where he met his future wife, and then to Vancouver, where he worked in management for nine years while earning an Executive M.B.A. He began his second career as an opera educator when, as a board member of the Vancouver Opera Association, he instituted pre-performance lectures and began speaking at them.

In 1983, Scott moved back to Toronto, where he worked as a human resources specialist for several large companies, all the while nurturing his passion for opera.

“When I was a businessman, I had the opportunity to determine my own schedule, so I would go and visit London, England, when there was an opera I wanted to see, or I would do a western swing through Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, surprisingly timed around opera that happened to be on,” says Scott.

Scott’s expertise led him to be featured as a panelist on the Metropolitan Opera’s “Texaco Opera Quiz” for seven years, and as a guest quiz panelist and commentator on CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera for the last eighteen. He also gives lectures to opera societies in Canada and the United States, and organizes guided tours to European opera houses.

“Opera is a drug, you just want to learn more about it, to see more,” says Scott, who owns over 2,000 CDs and one of the largest private collections of opera books and videos in Canada. “I think for me a lot of the pleasure of opera is literally the discovery – it’s learning about the opera rather than just being entertained by opera.”

For more information about Iain Scott’s opera courses and opera tours, please call (416) 486-8408 or send an e-mail to [email protected]


Anita Malhotra