For the first time in its 18-year history, the 2018 Rubies is honouring one of its own. Fittingly it’s Wayne Gooding, the recently retired editor of Opera Canada. Wayne joined OC in 1992 as a volunteer board member, at the invitation of founder Ruby Mercer. Soon he was drafted to assume the role of Chair of the Editorial Committee, eventually becoming Editor in 1997. Through his quarter-century tenure, Gooding the helmsman expertly steered the magazine through the treacherous waters of a fast-changing publishing industry, always with a felicitous mix of well-considered judgement, prudent business sense, and a liberal dose of wry British humour.
Now it’s time for him to be on the other side, as an honouree—“it’s weird to be interviewed,” Gooding quipped when we met for a chat in the canteen of the Royal Conservatory of Music, where he gives the occasional course on opera appreciation. Born in Shrewsbury, England, Gooding attended University of East Anglia in Norwich, majoring in Philosophy. The son of a British mother and American father, he moved to Canada in 1970 and earned master’s degrees at the University of Western Ontario, in Philosophy and in Journalism. Following short stints at the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, Gooding settled into the roles of business journalist and editor at the Financial Post, Canadian Business and Marketing magazines.
His tenure at the Financial Post was particularly rewarding. The editor at the time wanted to start an Arts section, and Gooding was happy to oblige. He became the first person to write about opera in that business paper. It was only natural, given that Gooding grew up steeped in classical music. He recalls hearing for the first time, at age eight on a scratchy 45 rpm record, the famous Pearl Fishers duet with Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill. He also has fond memories of attending the Priory School for Boys, where at age 13 he got his first taste of being on stage, as a Hebrew Slave in Nabucco, at Shrewsbury Castle no less. Equally memorable was a Verdi Requiem with the great Australian mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton.
While a performing career was never a calling, Gooding studied the piano and the acoustic guitar for his own enjoyment, and has been a lifelong Blues fan, not to mention a fan of the music of Richard Wagner—talk about strange bedfellows! Not too many can claim to have cut one’s operatic teeth seeing Covent Garden performances of Boris Godunov with Boris Christoff, Turandot with Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers as Otello! But Wayne’s true gift rests with his pen, as a respected music journalist-critic and discerning opera lover. In that capacity, in addition to Opera Canada, Wayne has contributed to Playbill, Opera Now, American Record Guide and The Wagner Journal.
In a long career that crosses boundaries between music and business journalism, Wayne has uncommon insights into the inner workings of both fields. That said, he feels good journalism is the same anywhere—the requirements are a solid technical know how of writing and editing, a surfeit of creativity, and the requisite solid preparation. Thrown into the mix are a judicious, balanced approach, engaging writing style, the ability to keep an open mind in investigative situations, and the willingness to listen. Of the countless interviews he has conducted, he singles out the ones with Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as particularly memorable—“what a smart and interesting man!”
To be sure, retirement as Editor of Opera Canada does not mean being put out to pasture—Gooding is keeping busy with several current and future projects. He has naturally gravitated to teaching and public speaking—on the horizon are three courses in opera appreciation, including one on Tchaikovsky’s operas at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Still a very active member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Speakers Bureau, Gooding will be a moderator for the upcoming symposium centred around Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor’s new COC commission, Hadrian.
Gooding is also continuing his long association with renowned Canadian visual artist, curator, and philanthropist Ydessa Hendeles. He has served as editor of her many catalogues and other materials for the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation. As to future writing projects, several are still in the thinking stage, and Gooding is reticent to go into details. But given his long experience as an observer of all things operatic in Canada, wouldn’t he be an ideal candidate to write about important figures the likes of Ruby Mercer and Richard Bradshaw, or something on the history of the development of opera in Canada?
As a parting question, I asked him about the best piece of advice he’s been given. His answer was—“Aim high, work hard, but have fun! It was given to me by Mr. Caws, my senior school English teacher.” I would say Wayne Gooding has followed that piece of advice superbly.