Second Debut: Louis Quilico, 73, Is Going Strong by Wah Keung Chan
/ September 1, 1998
One year after his official
retirement from opera, legendary Canadian baritone Louis Quilico is
still performing. Though the portly ex-Montrealer turned 73 this
year, he seems to have found the fountain of youth, embarking on a
second career as a recitalist and recording artist.
In early April, Quilico was in New York for a recital and a
recording of Frank Loesser's musical Most Happy Fella, to be
released early next year. A couple of days later Quilico was the
featured soloist at a sold-out benefit concert of Théodore Dubois'
Les sept paroles du Christ, singing with L'Ensemble Vocal
Excelsior in Saint-Sauveur, Quebec. Though Quilico's voice has lost
some flexibility since his heyday in the 1970s, his dramatic
baritone remains full and virile.
Quilico's vocal longevity is all the more impressive considering
that he is self-taught. Quilico admits to only 40 voice lessons in
his life. Back in 1953 he was coached at the Montreal Conservatory
and New York's Mannis School of Music by French baritone Martial
Singher. Singher's lessons and Quilico's natural abilities carried
him to victory in the 1955 Metropolitan Opera auditions, but singing
a complete opera was another matter. Quilico took stock of his
technical weaknesses before his first San Francisco Opera appearance
in 1956. He spent six months in front of a mirror developing the
solid technique that serves him well to this day.
Quilico has been teaching his singing method since 1969 to such
students as Paul Frey, Mark Pedrotti and Gary Relyea. In a recent
interview with La Scena Musicale, Quilico expressed
concern about the state of vocal training in Canada. He finds that
Canadian programs push students into singing roles before they have
had time to develop a solid technique and master their instrument.
At Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts, where Quilico currently
teaches, students work at their own pace with a flexible schedule
and are not prematurely forced into stage roles.
In his recent pedagogical video on voice training, "Louis
Quilico, The Voice Lesson" (York Fine Arts, YFA00897), Quilico
outlines what he calls his Nine Laws of Vocal Production, which
stress proper alignment and natural singing. Quilico emphasizes that
singing is more a mental than a physical exercise. He believes in
mentally preparing the instrument and that singing repetitive scales
is not always necessary. Like many singing teachers, Quilico uses a
metaphorical and metaphysical vocabulary which can be confusing to a
beginner, but his ideas on breathing and onset have proved valuable
to many students.
Quilico's recital career picked up after his marriage to pianist
Christina Petrowska five years ago, and their CD of French and
Russian songs has just been released on the Welsprung label. The
recording includes French mélodies that demonstrate ideas
learned from Martial Singher four decades ago. "Singher always
wanted mélodies to be voiced. He disapproved of switching to
falsetto", Quilico recalls.
Although Quilico was nicknamed Mr. Rigoletto in honour of his 510
performances of Verdi's Rigoletto, he never made a studio
recording of the opera. Quilico is glad to know that there are at
least 17 pirate recordings of his live Rigolettos, including
one with José Carreras as the Duke in his New York debut at City
Opera. Quilico's recitals will continue, but he won't be singing
Rigoletto again soon, at least not until his knees get better.
Quilico will shortly undergo surgery for knee trouble stemming from
a collision with a food cart on an Air Canada flight in the
Well and active, Quilico is regarded by many as a minor legend in
his own time. He recently agreed to donate his papers and
memorabilia to the National Library of Canada. But the library's
Quilico archive will not be getting his first Rigoletto costume,
made for his 1960 New York City Opera debut. Next May one of
Quilico's students will wear it in a new production of
Rigoletto at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts and, for
the first time, Mr. Rigoletto will direct.Louis Quilico and
Christina Petrowska will give a recital on November 2 and a
masterclass on November 3 at the University of Toronto (Tel.:
416-978-3744), a recital in Quebec City on November 14 and a concert
with Boris Brott and orchestra at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in
Toronto on Nov. 15.
Related literature : Christina Petrowska Mr. Rigoletto :
In Conversation with Louis Quilico, Captus Press, 1996, Ruby
Mercer The Quilicos. Mosaic Press, 1995, Jerome Hines
Great Singers on Great Singing, Limelight Editions, 1982, pp.