Gino Quilico is one of Canada's best-known opera singers. His grandparents were Italian immigrants who settled in Montréal. His father was Louis Quilico (b. January 14, 1929), one of the first major opera stars to emerge from Canada. Gino was born while Louis was studying at Mannes School in New York and singing with the New York City Opera. His mother was a concert pianist and voice teacher. At about the age of 14, Gino developed the typical North American teenager's interest in rock music. He quit school when he was 16 and worked at a variety of jobs, including home construction and renovation work, gardening, coal mining, and unloading barrels of Bacardi rum from freight trains. He also played guitar and sang popular music at local nightclubs, though his voice was "very untrained."
When he was about 19 or 20, Louis suggested that since the opera was hiring non-singing chorus extras, Gino could try that. Gino studied two years with his parents until he was completely trained, physically, to be a singer. "It was more like an apprenticeship, living with artists and learning my trade," he remembers. He entered the Opera School of the University of Toronto to learn the non-vocal skills of an opera singer, such as acting and make-up. He went to Paris to continue his studies and got his big break at the age of 24 when he signed as a house singer with the Opéra de Paris for three years.
By then, he was taking major baritone parts in leading houses. He has sung with the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala of Milan, London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Berlin State Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and others. He has also sung at the festivals of Edinburgh, Salzburg, Schwetzingen, Aix-en-Provence, and Orange.
He lived in Paris for 14 years until he witnessed a fatal car bombing as he was walking along the street that injured 40 children. Quilico had just walked by the car that exploded and realized that if he had been there 15 seconds later he would have been killed. Thinking of his wife and children, he immediately moved to London, only to be further traumatized two years later when a fatal bomb went off in Harrod's department store. After that, he moved back to his father's home town of Montréal, where he immediately felt at home and now makes his base, finding it highly practical for him and the bilingual opportunities good for his children.
His roles include parts in La Bohème, Manon, L'Elisir d'Amore, Pagliacci, Queen of Spades, Don Pasquale, Les Troyens, Carmen, La Cenerentola, Lucia di Lammermoor, Manon Lescaut, Faust, and Eugene Onegin. He has been Figaro in both Il Barbieri di Siviglia and The Ghosts of Versailles. He held back from accepting any Verdi roles until he was in his forties. "Men shouldn't sing Verdi in their thirties unless they are born with the Verdi sound, otherwise they get tired and wobbly." He has now sung Ford in Falstaff and Iago in Otello.
Gino Quilico has sung in two feature operatic films and over 20 complete opera releases, including the 1995 Grammy-winning recording of Les Troyens. His 2003 Noël went gold. He was named the Canadian Music Council's "Artist of the Year" in 1988, is Canada's first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and in 1993 was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.