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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 14, No. 10 July 2009

The Quilico Spirit

by Wah Keung Chan / July 8, 2009

In recent years Canadian baritone Gino Quilico has spent as much time in pop and musicals as in opera. “About four years ago, I came to a point in my life where I was in Korea singing Don Giovanni and I found myself alone in a hotel,” said the 54-year-old Quilico. “After a 28-year career, I really wanted to spend more time at home. I was tired of traveling 10 months a year; I was rarely performing in Montreal and in Canada.” Performing at home has led him to a hit pop single with Quebec teen Marilou Bourdon, concert performances of Starmania, Quasimodo in Notre-Dame de Paris, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and his own autobiographical show “A Musical Voyage.”

Quilico couldn’t have foreseen it, but the decision to slow down his international career allowed him to be at his son Enrico’s bedside when he suffered traumatic brain injuries from a motorcycling accident in May 2006. “When it happened, I was so glad that I had made that decision,” said Quilico. “Rico is a miracle. He was in a coma for a month and intensive care for two months. He will always have some difficulties but if you look at him, you wouldn’t know he was in an accident.” Last September, Enrico completed his first triathlon, a triumph of will power. This Quilico passion for life is a trait that can be traced back to Quilico’s late father, Louis Quilico, Canada’s greatest baritone, who will be honoured by the City of Montreal with a special day on August 16, 2009. The same day, Gino will sing the role of Germont in a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata to close Montreal’s Italian Cultural Week.

The Quilico music family is one of the most celebrated in Canadian history and their story has some elements befitting an opera drama. When Opera Canada founder Ruby Mercer set out to write a biography of Louis Quilico, who would have a 25-year career at the Metropolitan Opera, she ended up calling the book The Quilicos (published in 1990), telling the story of not only Louis but of his wife Lina, a pianist, and his son Gino, who had followed in his footsteps. However, when Lina died in 1991, the family seemed to fall apart. In 1993, Louis married pianist Christina Petrowska-Quilico, who authored Mr. Rigoletto in 1999, a biography of Louis in conversation form. Gino and Louis became estranged following the marriage, and the two did not make up before Louis died in 2000 from complications following a routine knee surgery. “I’ve made peace with my father,” said Gino. “He gave me everything a child needs. He was my teacher and gave me a beautiful life. There is not one day that I don’t think of him.”

“My father was a great artist, the greatest Rigoletto and a good Germont,” remembered Quilico, who saw his father on stages around the world and performed with him in Don Giovanni, Barber of Seville and Manon in Salzburg and at the Met. “He was loved everywhere he went. Many people tell me that he was genuine and generous. I try to follow him in this, and not act like a star. His voice will remain the greatest. His teaching skills have remained with me and hopefully one day I will transmit them to others.” There is a famous story, about Louis being engaged in 1956 to sing Manon in San Francisco opposite Jussi Björling. Feeling unprepared, he locked himself up in a room and sang in front of a mirror for six months until he figured out how to sing properly. “It was not only about technique, but where you put yourself mentally,” explains Quilico. “His teaching was very philosophical. He was like a guru. It wasn’t based on exercise. It was spiritual. It was not so much the sound as the preparation and the delivering of the air. He would say ‘mind over matter’. I remember there was a note I couldn’t reach and we argued about it. That night I went to sleep and made the decision that I could sing it, and the next day, I woke up and sang that note.” Quilico believes that unlike himself – “I had a white pop voice” – his father started with talent, “but lots of people have the talent, but just don’t know it or don’t have the desire. My father tapped into this energy, and so did my son in his fight to live.”

Gino only discovered that passion himself when he first sang in the chorus of the Canadian Opera Company and looked out at the clapping audience. “It was like a drug, and I wanted more.” He is channeling that energy into some new goals in opera and classical music. His voice has now deepened, and he would like to take on more Verdi (MacBeth) and Puccini (Scarpia). “When I sang my first Verdi Don Carlo 16 years ago, I wasn’t really ready.” At 54, he feels ready. n

Gino Quilico in concert:

> Until July 26 – Québec, QC: Les Misérables

> August 16 – Festival de la petite Italie, Montréal, QC: Verdi’s La Traviata

(c) La Scena Musicale