Opera Impresario Thomson Smillie; Guided Scottish and Kentucky Operas
By Keith Runyon for the Huffington Post
A native Scotsman, Smillie came to Louisville in 1981, where he spent a year working with the Kentucky Opera’s founder, Moritz Bomhard, before taking the reigns as Mr. Bomhard’s successor in 1980. Over the following 15 years, Smillie’s tenure as general director would gain national acclaim for his innovations and creativity. He also became well known in Louisville for his radio broadcasts about opera, which regularly aired on WUOL-FM. After he left the opera company in 1997, he worked as a freelance director, writer, lecturer and development consultant.
Smillie was born in Glasgow on Sept. 29, 1942. He recently recalled: “I won first prize in the lottery of life. I had an extremely happy childhood and my parents were devoted to one another and to me and to my two brothers, and we grew up in a nice flat in Glasgow.”
“My love of music derived from the fact that my mother, in particular, my father to a lesser extent, would buy 78s of Caruso and things and later of course for that great middle class symbol the Radiogram. So I grew up listening to quite a lot of what we would not call popular light classical music, excerpts from Verdi and things, and I’ve always loved music.” He became especially fond of Gilbert and Sullivan when he was in his early teens. “When other boys were discovering sex in a big way, I memorized all 13 of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, most of which I can recite in large part to this day,” he said.
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