Louis Quilico’s sudden death on July 15, 2000 in Toronto, Canada marked the end of an exceptional career. He had performed major baritone roles in many ofthe world’s great opera houses, including Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, Bolshoi and the Vienna Staatsoper. Nearly 300 appearances alone took place over 25 years at the Metropolitan Opera, where he performed with tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jon Vickers and José Carreras, and sopranos Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto and Beverly Sills, among others; and such leading conductors as James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Richard Bonynge and Claudio Abbado. After his retirement from the Metropolitan Opera, Quilico continued to perform and record, most often with his wife, concert pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, C.M who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada. The couple toured extensively together in duo recitals recorded four CDs, including Mr. Rigoletto: My Life in Music on Analekta, two books and a teaching video.
Quilico was one of the leading baritones of his generation. But it was his defining portrayal of Verdi’s hunchbacked jester that won him international acclaim and the sobriquet “Mr. Rigoletto”. He sang the role more than 500 times, the last being at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in September 1994.
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 (Captus Press, 1996,1998), written with Quilico’s wife, 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 Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
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, and the urging of his first wife, Lina Pizzolongo (1925-91), he was able to continue his studies with Singher and others from 1952 to 1955.
In 1953, Louis Quilico won first prize in the CBC Radio competition Nos Futures Étoiles. 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 Verdi’s La Traviata with the New York City Opera.
By the late 1950s, Quilico was an up-and-coming star on the international opera circuit, singing the title role in a historic production of Donizetti’s Il Duca d’Alba at the Spoleto 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 La Traviata. He remained a member of the Covent Garden company from 1960 to 1963.
In 1962, Quilico made his Bolshoi Theatre (Moscow) debut in a production of Rigoletto. By 1963, he had performed at the Paris Opera (as Rodrigo in Don Carlos) and had a starring role in the premiere of Darius 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 in the world premiere of La mère coupable.
Between 1964 and 1971, Quilico performed regularly at many of the world’s great opera houses: the Vienna Staatsoper, Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires, Teatro Massimo of Palermo, Termi di Caracalla, and at the operas of Venice, Turin, Florence and Paris. He also performed frequently with the Canadian Opera Company and the Opéra du Québec. In 1969, he thrilled audiences from Moscow to Bucharest with starring roles in Rigoletto and Aida. 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.
Louis Quilico made his Metropolitan Opera debut in February 1972 when he replaced Thomas Stewart as Golaud in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. 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; Berlioz’s Les 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, Louis 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 were featured together again in Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Canadian Opera Company.
Louis Quilico was a Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1999. He held an honorary doctorate from the Université de Québec (1987) and in 1999 was awarded the first Distinguished
Visitor Award by the University of Toronto.
He received the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavalée (1965) and the Canadian Music Council Medal (1985). In 1996, he was honored by the Sarasota Opera Guild in Florida and presented with the keys to the city. In 1999, he was presented with an award from the Licia Albanese Foundation and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Montreal/Italian Cultural Institute of Montreal. A street in the Montreal municipality of Saint-Léonard 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 instructed at Mannes College in New York City and privately. Up until the time of his death, Quilico shared his knowledge at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts and at the Glenn Gould (professional) School, Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Internationally known pianist and recording artist, Christina Petrowska Quilico, established the Christina & Louis Quilico Award in 2000 to honor the memory of her late husband, Louis Quilico. The awards are administered by the Ontario Arts Foundation and take place at the Canadian Opera Company every two years. Many of the winners have gone on to international careers throughout the States, Canada and Europe. Last year’s top winners also won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Finals.