OP2849. OTELLO, Live Performance, 19 May, 1963, Buenos Aires, w.Klobucar Cond. Teatro Colón Ensemble; Jon Vickers, Raina Kabaivanska, Louis Quilico, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0375. - 4035122653755
“[Jon Vickers stated] PETER GRIMES is ‘a great opera because everyone who sees GRIMES must go out of that opera with all kinds of misgivings about their attitudes to other human beings’.
Like his closest colleagues in music drama, Maria Callas, Leonie Rysanek and his compatriot Teresa Stratas, Vickers cannot be fully understood from studio recordings. But two DVDs, a Met OTELLO from 1978 and a PETER GRIMES from Covent Garden, in which the singer and the character who believed that no one could truly understand what he knew are merged, give some idea of his extraordinary presence.
During his career, Vickers’ soft singing was often dismissed as ‘crooning’ or falsetto, but it often was instead an enveloping, fully supported sound, seeming to come from all around the theater.”
- William R. Braun, OPERA NEWS, 11 July, 2015
“The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers brought a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity to everything he sang, including legendary portrayals of Wagner’s TRISTAN, Verdi’s OTELLO, Beethoven’s Florestan and Britten’s Peter Grimes, had few rivals. Yet, even in subdued passages, whether posing questions as the clueless title character of Wagner’s PARSIFAL or singing tender phrases of a Schubert song, Mr. Vickers’ voice had penetrating body and depth. For all his power, he was a master at singing high pianissimo phrases with ethereal beauty. Making every word he sang matter was another hallmark of his artistry. Mr. Vickers was incapable of fudging a text for the sake of vocal effect, a priority he traced to his Christian upbringing, in which hymns and prayers were revered. Still, Mr. Vickers had his share of detractors, who found his singing burly and gruff.
He identified intensely with the characters he portrayed, especially misfits, like Peter Grimes, and misunderstood heroes, like Verdi’s Otello, who are outwardly strong but struggling against brutal destinies. Yet he readily admitted that in taking risks and giving his all, his singing could be inconsistent and uncontrolled. That Mr. Vickers lost himself in his roles did not surprise those who knew him. He was a volatile and enigmatic person, in many ways decent and principled, but hot-tempered and quick to jump on any perceived slight.
The soprano Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde to his Tristan, said that Mr. Vickers ‘was almost always unhappy’, and that his ‘nerves were outside the skin, not inside the skin’, as she told Jeannie Williams, the author of JON VICKERS: A HERO’S LIFE. In her book, Ms. Williams recounts stories of Mr. Vickers bullying underlings and dressing down colleagues. When a 1986 Metropolitan Opera production of Handel’s SAMSON traveled to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Mr. Vickers insulted the conductor, Julius Rudel, during a rehearsal in front of the entire cast and orchestra, shaking Mr. Rudel so much that he offered to quit. Yet in interviews he often spoke of how his rural roots and Christian convictions had shaped his life philosophy, as he explained in a 1974 documentary for the Canadian Broadcast Company: ‘The understanding, which slowly and surely developed in me, of the necessity of human contact and an understanding of the needs of others and their problems has probably, more than anything else, given me the ability to analyze my roles, to come to grips with a score, to study a drama, to project my feelings into the life of someone I’ve never met except on a piece of paper’.
Encouraged to pursue singing seriously, he auditioned for George Lambert, a voice teacher who recruited students for the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and was offered a scholarship, beginning with the 1950-51 academic year. While at the conservatory, Mr. Vickers met Henrietta Elsie Outerbridge, a child of missionaries who had worked in China. Hetti, as she was called, had studied medicine for several semesters and taught English and art. They married in July 1953. A devoted couple, they were ‘one of the great love stories of our time’, in the words of the soprano Teresa Stratas.
Mr. Vickers considered his professional stage début to be a performance in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO at the Toronto Opera Festival, which in 1959 became the Canadian Opera Company. Over the next two years with the festival he sang Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA, Don José in CARMEN and other roles but preferred singing for radio and television because the work paid better.
In 1957, for his first season at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, he sang Don José, Riccardo in BALLO IN MASCHERA and Enée (Aeneas) in Berlioz’s epic opera LES TROYENS. Mr. Vickers would later sing Enée in a new production of the opera at Covent Garden in 1969, the centennial of the composer’s death. The conductor was Colin Davis, an inspired Berlioz interpreter. During the run, the Covent Garden forces recorded the opera in a London studio, and the sessions were tense. The cast, especially Mr. Vickers, complained of the strain of recording the work while also performing it on stage. Some rough patches in Mr. Vickers’s singing come through. Still, he brought a heroic cast to the music, and the recording remains a classic.
Mr. Vickers’ first performances at the Metropolitan Opera came in early 1960, singing Canio in Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI, Florestan in Beethoven’s FIDELIO and Siegmund in Wagner’s WALKÜRE, all within two months. It was on the Met stage in 1967 that Mr. Vickers introduced what many consider his greatest achievement, the title role of Britten’s PETER GRIMES, conducted by Mr. Davis and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Working with a libretto by Montagu Slater, Britten conceived the title role of the loner fisherman in an English village for his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears, who gave the first performance in London in 1945. With his ethereal voice, Pears portrayed the fisherman as an alienated dreamer, a misfit in a narrow-minded town. While yearning to be accepted, Grimes takes out his thwarted anger on homeless boys who are drafted into work as his apprentices. Britten described the opera as depicting the struggle of an individual against the masses. But many see Grimes’ persecution as a metaphor for the oppression of homosexuals. Mr. Vickers, who was, as many of his colleagues recounted, quite homophobic, could not abide such an interpretation. For him [the role of] Peter Grimes was a study in the ‘psychology of human rejection’, a view shared by Mr. Davis and Guthrie. With his powerful heldentenor voice, Mr. Vickers revealed the danger within the twisted psyche of the ostracized fisherman. His Grimes was one moment lost in reverie, the next exploding with brutality. His bleakly poignant portrayal and fearsome singing altered the public perception of the role. Though they did not like to voice their attitudes publicly, Britten and Pears were dismayed by Mr. Vickers’ Grimes. But they could not argue with success. Companies around the world mounted productions of PETER GRIMES for Mr. Vickers.
He sang more than 280 total performances at the Met, including the company premiere of LES TROYENS in 1973, and the title roles of Verdi’s OTELLO and Wagner’s PARSIFAL. For years Mr. Vickers resisted the role of Wagner’s Tristan, to the frustration of Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde of her day, who had been searching for a powerhouse tenor who could match her in the opera. Mr. Vickers finally came through in Buenos Aires in 1971, singing Tristan to Ms. Nilsson’s Isolde. It was a triumph. They went on to sing it many times, though not as often as Ms. Nilsson had hoped. ‘I told him at the time that I waited and waited for my Tristan for 14 years’, Ms. Nilsson told THE NEW YORK TIMES, ‘as long as Jacob waited for Rachel in the Bible’. He sang the role just twice at the Met, and only one of those was with Ms. Nilsson, on 30 Jan., 1974.
Mr. Vickers lived in Toronto at the start of his career and then settled in London before returning to Canada and buying a farm about an hour’s drive from Toronto. After his retirement in 1988 he gave occasional master classes but mostly kept a low profile. He once touched on the impetus of his artistry in a graduation address in 1969 at the Royal Academy of Music in Toronto. ‘I sang because I had to’, he said. Singing, he explained, was ‘an absolute necessity, fulfilling some kind of emotional and even perhaps physical need in me’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 July, 2015
“Renowned for her interpretations of the roles of Tosca, Manon, Francesca da Rimini, and Madama Butterfly, Kabaivanska accomplished her advanced vocal and piano studies at the Bulgarian State Conservatory in Sofia. In 1958, she moved to Italy and further developed her technique with Zita Fumagalli. She made her début at the Sofia National Opera in 1957 in the role of Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN. But Kabaivanska's most important début was in the role of Agnese in Bellini's BEATRICE DI TENDA at La Scala in 1961. At her Covent Garden début in 1962, she sang Desdemona in Verdi's OTELLO, and for the Metropolitan Opera she sang Nedda in PAGLIACCI. Her 1975 Paris début was as Leonore in Verdi's IL TROVATORE, and for her Salzburg début, she interpreted the role of Mrs. Ford in Verdi's FALSTAFF. Kabaivanska has been awarded with many accolades throughout her career, including the Premio Bellini (1965) for her interpretation of Beatrice di Tenda, the Viotti d'oro (1970), the Premio Puccini (1978), the Premio Illica (1979), Premio Monteverdi (1980), and the Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico from the Medici Academy for the Arts in Florence (1990). In 1974, Bulgarian Television dedicated a film to her entitled THE SEASONS OF RAINA KABAIVANSKA. Kabaivanska delivered an emotional performance of the ‘Ave Maria’ from Verdi’s OTELLO to open the funeral mass for Luciano Pavarotti in Modena, 8 Septembe, 2007. Mme Kabaivanska has recently added another role to her considerable repertoire: the Comtesse in Tchaikowsky's PIQUE DAME, in a series of five 2008 performances at the Capitole in Toulouse.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron
“Louis Quilico was a robust singer who was at his best in the great Italian and French Romantic baritone roles. Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini and Massenet were the composers most heavily represented in his repertory of more than 80 roles, but he also touched on the Mozart and Wagner repertory, and performed in the premieres of operas by Milhaud and Jolivet.
The signature role of his operatic career, however, was Rigoletto. He sang the role over 500 times -- the last was at the National Arts Center in Ottowa in 1994 -- and was so thoroughly identified with his portrayal of Verdi's tormented jester that he was widely known as ‘Mr. Rigoletto’. The nickname was used as the title of a book, MR. RIGOLETTO: IN CONVERSATION WITH LOUIS QUILICO (1996), by Mr. Quilico's wife, the pianist and writer Christina Petrowska, and as the title of a recent compact disc retrospective, MR. RIGOLETTO: MY LIFE IN MUSIC.'
Louis Quilico was born in Montréal on 14 Jan., 1925. After beginning his studies in Montréal, he won a local competition for a scholarship to study at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. When he returned to Montréal, he became a student of Martial Singher at the Montréal Conservatory, and later continued working with Singher at the Mannes College of Music in New York. Also among his early teachers were Teresa Pediconi and Riccardo Stracciari. In 1949 he married Lina Pizzolongo, his pianist and vocal coach.
Mr. Quilico made his professional stage début with the Opera Guild of Montréal in 1954. He was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in 1955, but did not make his début at the Met until 1972. Instead, he gave his first New York performances at the New York City Opera, where he made his début as Germont in a production of Verdi's LA TRAVIATA in 1955.
It was also as Germont that Mr. Quilico made his Covent Garden début in 1960, and he quickly cemented his reputation as a Verdi baritone with notable débuts at the Bolshoi (as Rigoletto in 1962) and the Paris Opéra (as Rodrigo in DON CARLOS in 1963).
In 1972 he made his début at the Metropolitan Opera as a replacement for an ailing Thomas Stewart as Golaud in Debussy's PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE. He joined the Met roster in 1973, and sang in five productions his first season. From the time of his début, he sang with the company for 25 consecutive seasons and was included in several of the company's television broadcasts.
When he appeared in Massenet's MANON with his son, Gino Quilico, also a baritone, it may have been the first time a father and son in principal roles shared the Met stage.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 July, 2000