A Biography
by Henry Ingram

The phrase 'Don't give up your day-job' haunts artists and creators of all disciplines. Yet with characteristic fearlessness, Guillermo Silva-Marin did give up his 'day-job' as a data processor at the Toronto Dominion Centre to join the musicians' ranks, and ten years into a successful performing career became Founder and General Director of the Toronto Operetta Theatre and - since 1994 - has been General Director of Opera in Concert. Actually his journey from the world of business to the arts began in the pre-computer age in his native Puerto Rico. 

A Ponceño by birth, the family in Puerto Rico decreed that their eldest son should be a medical doctor and Guillermo, or Valdin as he was then called, was dispatched to the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan with instructions to pursue a course of studies leading to the Hippocratic oath. But fate intervened and the closest he ever came to the medical profession was as Dr. Malatesta in Donizetti's DON PASQUALE in 1979. Never convinced of his aptitude for medicine, Guillermo gradually adjusted his curriculum and graduated with a degree in comparative literature (Spanish/French). 

Upon graduation, he accepted a teaching position, albeit he was a teacher who had begun to take voice lessons at the San Juan Conservatory. These lessons led to friendships with musicians from the Casals Festival and the power of the musical world began to make itself felt. In fact, Canada was even then exerting an influence on him, though in a subliminal way. Pablo Casals brought many world-famous artists to the island for his festival and the young voice student still remembers a performance of MESSIAH featuring the great Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester conducted by Casals himself. 

Perhaps the move from medicine by way of the TD Centre to eminent impresario is not really so far-fetched, especially in light of this tale: It seems that even as a youngster, Guillermo was inclined towards producing theatrical events. The 12-year-old Barnum more than once conned his playmates into taking part in 'entertainments' which he devised, directed, designed, choreographed, wrote and starred in. His mother sewed the costumes, his brothers and sisters sold the tickets. The shows were well attended and the box office flourished. However, the experience was not without its sobering moments, for a few young theatre goers turned extremely critical and demanded their money back. What an education for a fledgling producer. Always respect the audience and always have 'no refunds' prominently printed on the tickets! 

I met Guillermo, or Bill as he's known to his friends, in the summer of 1971 barely a year after his arrival in Canada when we were both members of the Canadian Opera Company Chorus. That summer the COC was performing at Ontario Place, alternating staged excerpts of TOSCA, LA BOHEME and AIDA. We still smile at the memory of those chilly evenings at the Forum, striding onstage to the strains of the triumphal march wearing the skimpiest and ugliest costumes ever devised for soldiers in Radames' army. But Verdi survived and so did we. Guillermo had also been accepted that year into the University of Toronto Opera School and under the tutelage of John McKnight his vocal development continued at a rapid pace. His arresting baritone sound and natural musicianship attracted attention and in just a couple of years he graduated from Masetto on the MacMillan stage to Wagner in FAUST at the (then) O'Keefe Centre. The year was 1974, the year of Stuart Hamilton's 'big idea'... Opera in Concert. 

Stuart had chosen Thomas' HAMLET for the company premiere and Guillermo was the understudy for the title role. In those days the COC took two of its productions to Ottawa and it was there he got the call every understudy dreams of...he would have to go on! One week of furious preparation later, the lights went up on the first OIC performance, Stuart Hamilton was at the piano and Guillermo Silva-Marin was centre stage. The performance was an overwhelming success and the Puerto Rican baritone's career was well and truly launched. Opera in Concert has always provided Canadians the opportunity to expand their artistic scope and over the years, Guillermo was to be memorably heard in L'AMORE DEI TRE RE, STIFFELIO and SCHWANDA THE BAGPIPER. The COC's founding General Director Herman Geiger-Torel cast him as Marcello in the touring production of LA BOHEME and he was also featured as Rossini's Figaro and as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. In mainstage productions, he was heard in SALOME, Harry Somers' great opera LOUIS RIEL and MADAMA BUTTERFLY. His obvious talent netted him a New York agent and in no time he was singing with the Cincinnati Opera as the elder Germont and as Belcore in the famed 'wild west' version of L'ELISIR D'AMORE in 1980. Back in Canada, he was chosen as the first Canadian Affiliate Artist, participating in a program born in the United States aimed at supporting young careers with a year-round stipend in exchange for well-spaced performing residencies in local communities. Guillermo's host community was Grimsby, Ontario and he spread the vocal word from MacDonald's to the Rotary Club, to high school cafeterias, grammar schools, wine tasting parties and back again. His association with the Affiliate Artist program continued in the United States and he was posted to Imperial Valley, California on two different occasions. Another first in the young baritone's burgeoning career was charter membership in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble. This pioneering program was initiated by the COC's dynamic General Director Lotfi Mansouri and brought together a core of talented Canadian vocalists including Guillermo, Caralyn Tomlin, Roxolana Roslak, Theodore Baerg, Janet Stubbs, Eleanor James and Mark Pedrotti. The first Music Director for this program was of course Stuart Hamilton! 

San Juan and New York are not really so far apart where good singing is concerned and news of his successful 1979 Opera de San Juan debut as Dr. Malatesta in DON PASQUALE and engagements with the Puerto Rican Symphony resulted in an invitation from the Puerto Rican Cultural Institute to appear in concert at Carnegie Hall. To mark this auspicious occasion he was presented with the Cultural Award from the Puerto Rican Government. The Hispanic connection was later to lead him south to Mexico City where he repeated to role of Papa Germont, co-starring with the Cuban tenor Cesar Antonio Suarez. 
With his career in full swing, he entered the 1981 Bruce Yarnell Baritone Competition and was shocked at the judges' comments: "Your high notes are too good" they said, "we can't give you a prize because we think you really are a tenor". Even as early as Hamlet, some listeners had suggested he might explore the tenor repertoire but his closest advisors felt the colour of his voice was more baritone than tenor. However, the suggestion that he was 'really a tenor' from such a prominent and respected jury caused him to seriously reconsider his vocal category. Much soul-searching ensued, and many opinions later, he decided to reshape his career as a tenor.
A major grant from the Chalmers Foundation funded his lessons with the renowned Daniel Ferro in New York and he attended the Aspen Festival in 1982 where he had his first public tenor exposure singing in Mahler's reconstruction of von Weber's DIE DREI PINTOS. Later that year, he made a second debut with Opera in Concert, only this time (being a tenor), he got the girl! The role was Carlo in Donizetti's LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX, by coincidence the opening opera in OIC's 25th Anniversary Season. However, the real turning point in his transition from baritone to tenor occurred in Italy where he came under the influence of another erstwhile baritone ... Carlo Bergonzi. A bursary from the Bel Canto Institute in Chicago and continuing assistance from the Chalmers Foundation and the Canada Council enabled him to spend the entire winter of 1983 at Busseto, the home of Giuseppe Verdi. He and his fellow artists stayed at Bergonzi's hotel, I Due Foscari, dined like royalty in the four-star restaurant and pursued their studies under the personal guidance of Bergonzi himself. Through-out the winter, Bergonzi's friends would drop by for master classes and more than once, to the intense delight of the soprano contingent, the great Renata Tebaldi shared her knowledge with the young artists. Increasingly confident of his 'tenordom', Guillermo was chosen to sing the Duke in RIGOLETTO for the seminar's final performances in Teatro Verdi at the Busseto Town Hall. 
In Weill's opera STREET SCENE, the character Frank Maurrant wants to "Let things be like they always was"; but for Guillermo, things weren't 'like they always was' and he was now a tenor. Stuart was quick to show his faith in this new career direction and cast him in a number of important roles including Tonio in LA FILLE DU REGIMENT, Anatol in Barber's VANESSA and Jean in Massenet's SAPHO. In all he has sung over 20 roles for Opera in Concert. Lotfi Mansouri was also convinced that the decision had been a sound one and gave Guillermo the chance to try his tenor wings at the Harbourfront Opera Festival in the role of Hoffmann and later in the Ontario tour of LA TRAVIATA singing Alfredo. In this production, his Violetta was the rising young star, Joanne Kolomyjec. In COC mainstage productions he appeared as Pong in TURANDOT, Scaramuccio in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, Bardolfo in FALSTAFF and he was especially well-received as Beppe in the Canadian Opera Company's 1991 I PAGLIACCI.

Prior experience with the Leoncavallo masterpiece came in a new production at the New York City Opera conducted by Sergiu Comissiona. Even in New York, good tenors with repertoire and stage-savvy are hard to find, so when the Metropolitan Opera needed to complete its casting for ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, they were happy to discover that Guillermo knew the role of Scaramuccio and was just across Lincoln Center Plaza. He was available (what a surprise!) and yes, would be happy to join the Met roster as a cover artist. 

Though continually engaged as a performer, the urge to produce and direct began to manifest itself in a number of ways. Some of the early experiences were of the accidental variety, as in: "I want to conduct a G & S operetta, why don't you direct?" The result of that conversation was a community production that led to the Canadian opera COLAS ET COLINETTE for Equity Showcase Theatre in 1981. In the case of the Toronto Operetta Theatre, Guillermo offered his services to the Ontario Multicultural Theatre Association following a fledgling production of Lehar's DAS LAND DES LAECHELNS. He had been engaged as the lead tenor but his strongest impression from the experience was of a large, untapped audience for the music of operetta. Those long-dormant impresario genes activated themselves in 1985 and he soon became the Founder and first Artistic Director of Canada's only professional operetta company. Now closing out its 28th Anniversary Season, the Toronto Operetta Theatre has presented classical operetta drawn from the French, English, German, Austrian, Spanish, and American repertoire. Innovative programming evolved to include productions of Gonzalo Roig's CECILIA VALDES, Francisco Barbieri's EL BARBERILLO DE LAVAPIES, Kurt Weill's LADY IN THE DARK and Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE culminating in a dream come true, the World Premiere of EARNEST, The Importance of Being by Victor Davies and Eugene Benson, the first true Canadian operetta in over 100 years. Summer Opera Lyric Theatre
is another project Guillermo has carefully nurtured. His early experience as a teacher came in handy here and the idea has grown into an eight week training program for young singers concentrating on role study, dramatic coaching, and intensive musical preparation culminating in staged workshop performances of selected operas. The SOLT program is enriched by master classes conducted by experts from different fields of the music industry such as the late Richard Bradshaw, conductor; Marshall Pynkoski and Tom Diamond, stage directors; Carrol Anne Curry, artist manager; William Littler, critic; and coaches and voice teachers Rosemarie Landry, Catherine Robbin, Lorna McDonald John Hess and Stuart Hamilton. 
Things could not remain as 'they always was' for Opera in Concert either. As the company grew, Stuart and the small but dedicated OIC Board of Directors realized that an administrator was necessary. The logical person seemed to be Guillermo: he knew the company intimately, he had knowledge of the art form, possessed an entrepreneurial spirit and could give attention to detail (see: Data Processing, TD Centre, 1971). In 1991, he was appointed General Manager and on Stuart's retirement as Artistic Director in 1994, Guillermo was appointed as General Director.
In his adventurous first season he presented the Canadian Premiere of Verdi's LUISA MILLER at the Weston Recital Hall with Susan Haig conducting the Kitchener Waterloo Orchestra and Canadian Timothy Sullivan's FLORENCE: THE LADY WITH THE LAMP at the Jane Mallett Theatre conducted by Robert Cooper along with two other operas accompanied by piano. Since then, he has further broadened the scope of the company's repertoire to include the operas of Marschner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gluck, Handel and Rossini. Of special note was his revival of Healey Willan's DEIRDRE led from the piano by Music Director Stephen Ralls, John Beckwith's THE SHIVAREE and NIGHT BLOOMING CEREUS and Harry Somers' THE FOOL. Always eager to try out the new, the world premiere of Charles Wilson's KAMOURASKA with conductor Alex Pauk and Esprit Orchestra was a highlight in 2009. The company has also released three complete opera recordings, the first in Canadian History: Rameau's CASTOR ET POLLUX, Handel's RINALDO, and LA GRISELDA by Vivaldi from Naxos International. 
McGill University called in 1997 with an offer hard to refuse, to both teach and act as stage director for Ravel's L'EFANT ET LES SORTILEGES and Massenet's THERESE. Since then he has staged Ward's THE CRUCIBLE, Donizetti's L'ELISIR D'AMORE, Weisgall's SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR and Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO and IDOMENEO, Bernstein's CANDIDE to critical acclaim and box office success. He has also been in the director's chair at McGill for Handel's SEMELE and a staged concert presentation of Verdi's FALSTAFF. The long association with this prestigious University let to his appointment in 2006 as Interim Co-Director of Opera McGill, a post he shared with conductor Julian Wachner. 

Singer, teacher, director, producer, impresario, musician...each of these words describes Guillermo Silva-Marin and sometimes he is all these in a single day. Such drive could be attributed to his boundless energy or even to a natural-born inquisitiveness. While these traits may play their part, I believe it is above all else a desire to learn that urges him on, a thirst for the new and that which he has yet to experience. It is this desire, this eagerness to explore the unknown that makes the boy from Ponce such a vital force in the musical community in Canada. CARMEN FLAMENCO with Arte Flamenco Spanish Dance Co., his debut in Cork, Ireland as stage director of Lehar's THE MERRY WIDOW, the professional world premiere of TAPTOO! by John Beckwith and James Reaney in 2012 for TOT, recent productions of Handel's ORLANDO, Massenet's THAIS, Kalman's COUNTESS MARITZA, Kurt Weill's KNICKEBOCKER HOLIDAY and Milhaud's LA MERE COUPABLE point to a firm commitment to the lyric theatre, the artistic community and the public for which all his efforts bare witness.

Throughout his distinguished career, Guillermo Silva-Marin has performed with major Canadian symphony orchestras, concertized widely in his native of Puerto Rico, and has participated in a range of prestigious music festivals. 

Here is a sample of these engagements and conductors

ARIADNE AUF NAXOS Scaramuccio Strauss The Metropolitan Opera
I PAGLIACCI Beppe Leoncavallo New York City Opera
ALBERT HERRING Major Upfold Britten Canadian Opera Company
CARMEN El Remendado Bizet Canadian Opera Company
FALSTAFF Bardolpho Verdi Canadian Opera Company
LA TRAVIATA Germont Verdi Cincinnati Opera
DIE FLEDERMAUS Eisenstein Strauss Opera de San Juan
LUISA MILLER Rodolfo Verdi Opera in Concert
DIE FLEDERMAUS Alfredo Strauss Toronto Operetta Theatre
A NIGHT IN VENICE Caramello Strauss Toronto Operetta Theatre
ELIXER OF LOVE Nemorino Donizetti Opera Lyra
THE MATCHMAKER Singer   Centrestage

Toronto Symphony James Conlon
Edmonton Symphony Imre Pallo
Mexico State Symphony Enrique Batiz
El Paso Symphony Abraham Chavez
Puerto Rico Symphony Odon Alonso
Kingston Symphony Brian Jackson
London Fanshawe Chorus Gerald Fagan
Carnegie Hall Carlos Randolfo Juarbe
Courtenay Festival Timothy Vernon
Aspen Music Festival Jorge Mester
Ottawa Festival Mario Bernardi
Casals Festival Margaret Hillis
The Chamber Players Raffi Armenian
Windsor Symphony Dwight Bennett




Education & Awards

Following his graduation from the University of Puerto Rico in 1968 Guillermo Silva-Marin received a Diploma from the University of Toronto's Opera Division. He is the recipient of various prestigious awards including the Chalmers Award, a Canadian Council Award, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Award and the 2008 Most Influential Hispanic-Canadian Award.


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