Louis Quilico's sudden death on July 15, 2000 in Toronto, Canada marked the end of an exceptional career that included performances in many of the world's great opera houses, including nearly 300 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera.
Quilico was one of the leading baritones of his generation. But it was his defining turn as the hunchbacked jester Rigoletto that won him international acclaim and the title "Mr. Rigoletto". He sang the role more than 500 times - the last was at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in September 1994.
The nickname was also used as the title of his autobiography, Mr. Rigoletto:In Conversation with Louis Quilico (Captus Press, 1996, 2nd edition 1998) written with Quilico's wife, concert pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, and as the title of a compact disc retrospective released in February 2000 by Analekta fleurs de lys, Mr. Rigoletto: My Life in Music.
After his retirement from the Metropolitan Opera after 25 years, Quilico continued to perform, record and teach. The rich quality of his robust voice was a testament to his own personally devised vocal techniques, which he generously shared with a new generation of singers and recorded in Mr. Rigoletto: In Conversation with Louis Quilico. Quilico continued to tour and record, most frequently in recital with Christina Petrowska Quilico
Louis Quilico was born in Montreal, Canada on January 14, 1925 to an Italian-born father and a French-Canadian mother. He spent his formative years in the city, where his father owned a popular bicycle shop on rue St.-Denis. While a student of Frank H. Rowe, he won a prize to study with Teresa Pediconi and the famous baritone Riccardo Stracciari at the Conservatoire Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy.
From 1947 to 1952, he worked with Martial Singher, first at the Conservatoire de Montreal and later at Mannes College of Music in New York City. With the help of a scholarship from the college, he was able to continue his studies with Singher and others with help and the urging of his first wife, Lina Pizzolongo (1925-1991) from 1952 to 1955.
In 1953, Louis Quilico won first prize in the radio competition Nos Futures Etoiles. He later toured with Rolande Garnier and Jeunesses Musicales before making his professional stage debut, a year later, with the Opera Guild of Montreal.
In 1955 Quilico won the Metropolitan Opera "Auditions of the Air". He subsequently made his New York City debut on October 10, 1955, in a production of La Traviata with the New York City Opera.
By the late 1950's, Quilico was an up-and-coming star on the international opera circuit, singing the title role in an historic production of Donizetti's Il Duca d'Alba at the Spoleta Festival in 1959. (Produced by Luchino Visconti, the production was directed by Giancarlo Menotti and conducted by Thomas Schippers).
The following year, he made his debut at London's Covent Garden opposite soprano, Joan Sutherland in Verdi's La Traviata. He remained a member of the Covent Garden Company from 1960 to 1963.
In 1962, Quilico made his debut at the Bolshoi Theatre (Moscow), in a production of Rigoletto. By 1963, he had performed at the Paris Opera (as Rodrigo in Don Carlos) and had a starring role at the premiere of Milhaud's oratorio, Pacem in terris, under French conductor Charles Munch. In 1966, he was personally invited by Milhaud himself to sing the role of The Count at the world premiere of La Mere Coupable.
Between 1964 and 1971, Quilico performed regularly at many of the world's great opera houses: the Vienna Staatsoper, Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, Teatro Massimo of Palermo, Thermes of Caracan, and at the operas of Venice, Turin, Florence and Paris. He also performed frequently with the Canadian Opera Company and the Opera du Quebec. In 1969, he thrilled audiences from Moscow to Bucharest with starring roles in Rigoletto and Aida in Moscow.
During Canada's centenary year, Quilico performed opposite Jon Vickers and Teresa Stratas in a lavish production of Otello at Montreal's Place des Arts. He also sang in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in Toronto with the composer present.
The Met Years
Louis Quilico made his Metropolitan Opera debut in February 1972 when he replaced Thomas Stewart as Golaud in Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. In December 1972, he replaced the great Italian baritone, Tito Gobbi, in yet another Met production, Otello, opposite fellow Canadian, Jon Vickers.
Quilico joined the New York company's roster in 1973 and sang in five production his first season: three Verdi operas: La Traviata, Rigoletto and Il Trovatore; as well as Berlioz's Troyens and Gounod's Faust. He remained with the Met for 25 consecutive seasons, appearing in many of the company's popular radio and television broadcasts.
In 1987, he and his son Gino Quilico made opera history when they became the first father/son team to perform at the Met. Later that same year, they performed together again in Mozart's Don Giovanni for the Canadian Opera Company.
In 1998 Louis Quilico finished his 25th yearly contract at the Metropolitan Opera. He had recently recorded The Most Happy Fella by Frank Loesser for Jay Records in London, England and in New York. (Quilico had performed the role at the New York City Opera.)
Since his marriage in 1993 to concert pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico (and Professor at York University) the couple toured extensively in duo recitals and produced 4 CDs, 2 books and a teaching video together. He dedicated his autobiography and CD Mr. Rigoletto: My Life in Music on Analekta to Petrowska Quilico.
Louis Quilico was a Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the prestigious Governor General's Performing Arts Award. He held an honorary doctorate from the Universite de Quebec (1987) and was awarded (in 1999) the first Distinguished Visitor Award by the University of Toronto.
He received the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavalee (1965) and the Canadian Music Council Medal (1885). In 1996, he was honored by the Sarasota Opera Guild and presented with keys to the city of Sarasota, Florida. In 1999 he was honored by an award from the Licia Albanese Foundation and the Centro Culturale Italiano del Quebec.
A street in the municipality of St.-Leonard in Montreal is named in his honor.
From 1970 to 1987, Quilico taught at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, and from 1987 to 1990, at McGill University in Montreal. He also taught at Mannes College in New York City and privately. Up until the time of his death, Quilico taught at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts and at the Glenn Gould Professional School, Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.