Charming beginnings: Ilaria Quilico

Born in Aosta, Ilaria Alida Quilico graduated from Conservatoire de la Vallée d’Aoste. She continued her studies at Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan. Now she is attending Academia Verdiana at the Teatro Regio di Parma. In a conversation with Alice Lechner the young soprano talks about her first months at Academia Verdiana, about her debut at Teatro Regio di Parma in Un Rave in Maschera, about her first encounter with opera & those who guided her first steps, about the transition from pop music to opera, about her special bound with her teacher, Federico Longhi, and last, but not least, about her hopes & dreams.

After approaching Music through the study of pop singing, at the age of 16 she started studying canto lirico at the Liceo Musicale in Ivrea and then continued at the Conservatoire de la Vallée d’Aoste. Since 2016 she continued her studies at the Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan where she graduated in 2019 with top marks and honors. In the same year she joined the AMO Academy of the Teatro Coccia in Novara. In 2021 she took part in the First Edition of the Mascagni Academy of the Teatro Goldoni in Livorno. She studies and improves hermself under the guidance of the baritone Federico Longhi

She has participated in numerous Masterclasses with artists and personalities of international renown as Barbara Frittoli, Donato Renzetti, Luisa Castellani, Giovanna Lomazzi, Alberto Gazale, Renata Lamanda. In 2016, in the European Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Montepulciano, founded by the University of Music in Cologne, she took part in the summer Masterclass held by the soprano Edda Moser organized in the prestigious Palazzo Ricci; she thus participated in two concerts organized by the Academy finally winning the scholarship. In 2019 she obtained the third place at the Prize of the Conservatory “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan, the second place at the National Prize of Arts held in Cesena and won the first prize at the I International Competition “Mario Orlandoni” in Como. She was one of the winners of the role competition of the Capri Opera Festival, in September 2019 and she made her debut as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi by Giacmo Puccini. In November 2019 she performed Maguelonne in Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon staged by the Ente del Luglio Musicale Trapanese in co-production with the Teatro Coccia. In February 2020, in the role of Paesana 1, she performed in the world premiere of the opera Donna di Veleni by Marco Podda at the Teatro Coccia in Novara. In July 2020 she made her debut as Berta in Il Barbiere di Siviglia by G. Rossini in a production of Teatro Coccia. In July 2021 she performed in the city of Jerusalem and made her debut at the Teatro Regio in Parma in the concert Un Rave in Maschera, the closing performance of the Festival Verdi

Hello, Ilaria! Thank you for accepting our invitation. It’s a pleasure to chat with you. We are at the end of a difficult year…What are your resolutions for 2022? What are hopes & dreams of a Young Singer? 

Hello, the pleasure is all mine and thank you so much for the invitation! 2021 has been a very difficult year, full of lights and shadows, a year that seemed to have erased any perspective and yet, despite everything, gave me some great satisfaction. I hope that 2022 will be full of projects, objectives and above all opportunities to achieve them. I see my path as a staircase where the important thing is always to climb and I hope that this new year will make me take a few more steps!

Earlier this year you were admitted at Academy of high specialization in Verdi Repertory at Teatro Regio in Parma. Why did you you choose this Academy? How was the audition? How did the first months of the courses go? 

As I said before, the year we left behind was full of light and shadows and for me it started in total darkness. The thought of questioning myself again and going back to singing outside of the home context was hard to face and the audition was a real personal challenge. To find myself from the living room of my house, where I have always studied, to the stage of the Teatro Regio in Parma in front of a very prestigious jury, whose patroness in this edition was Mrs. Renata Scotto, was a very strong emotion. Finding myself in front of them, in front of all that beauty, those lights, those colors, feeling the scent of the stage and feeling all the adrenaline inside me, gave me the charge to give the best I could give at that moment. Being admitted to the Accademia Verdiana, which I chose for its educational offerings as well as its fame and prestige, was the Light for me. The structure of the Academy, which allows us to work with a different teacher every week, gives us the opportunity not only to get to know many personalities from this wonderful world that is the Theater, but also to keep the excitement and enthusiasm alive month after month. So the first months have been like all those that followed them: full of opportunities to learn, to know and to learn, thus renewing the joy and curiosity of the first day. 

Do you consider yourself a “verdian” voice? 

Like all young singers, I had to prepare arias for competitions, auditions and also for the Academy itself, so I really had to put in my repertoire pieces by many different composers and I believe that you can’t really confirm the inclination of your vocality in relation to a role until you study it in its entirety. Therefore, thanks to constant study, which must never be lacking, both inside and outside the Academy, and to the precious advice and indications I received, I was able to do all this, understanding my voice and its facets even more. So now, after all these months, I can say that yes, I am a Verdian voice too. 

Let’s go a bit backwards… Everyone has a story about the first impression we had on opera. What’s your story? Who guided your first steps on this path? How was the transition from pop music to opera? 

I am not a child of art and in my family, apart from my paternal grandmother who listened to Pavarotti’s tapes, nobody has ever been passionate about music. However, I have always sung since I was a little girl, in fact I loved Giorgia (“Di sole e d’azzurro” had become an obsession), Laura Pausini and I had an unbridled passion for a Bluvertigo song whose name I don’t even remember anymore. Long story short, at the age of ten I started taking modern singing lessons which I followed until Davide Conti, my teacher at the time, told me “But you have never thought about opera singing? Because there’s something in your voice that makes me think about it”. Well, when I returned home, I found a Callas CD by chance: from there I changed course drastically and, at the age of sixteen, I began to approach the study of opera singing, falling madly in love with it. Davide, I can’t thank you enough! 

This year you made your debut at Teatro Regio di Parma in the concert Un Rave in Maschera, the last performance of the Festival Verdi. How was this experience? 

First of all, it was a great privilege to be part of such an important performance. Surely I had to face new emotions such as being on the stage of the Teatro Regio in front of hundreds of people, with an orchestra like Maestro Melozzi’s who conducted us on that occasion and thus savor a new tension since I had never participated in an event of such magnitude. Being chosen together with my Academy colleague Chiara Guerra for this concert, has charged me with a strong responsibility because every time you are chosen among many others, it means that you are trusted and you have to give your best not to disappoint those who believed in us. The moment before starting to sing was the most beautiful moment because I realized where I was and what I was doing and that this would be my moment, the right moment to give all of myself. 

Speaking of the repertoire, how do you decide that you are ready for a certain role? What is your idea about developing healthily the voice? What are your plans in terms of repertoire? 

When I study arias and I feel they are vocally “comfortable” then I start to read and study the ensemble pieces in order to see how to approach the whole role. Obviously it is not possible to sing everything at once, maybe I like the arias of certain roles but for the moment the whole role is too heavy, or I feel that the arias are suitable for me but I know that I have to wait for a greater development of my voice, which can only happen with time and study. And for me, this is how the voice should be developed, by training it, by always studying with criterion and constancy, and by letting time mature it. By doing this you can’t go wrong because you only follow the voice with its natural development without trying to put it in places that don’t belong to it. Consequently, the choice of repertoire is based on comfort and the level of maturity of one’s vocal means at that moment, and this is how I will always choose what to sing. Now I feel comfortable in roles such as Leonora, Mimì, Liù, Micaela, but I dream that my voice may one day give me permission to tackle Amelia, Elisabetta di Valois and, who knows, maybe in many years’ time, even Tosca. 

Besides studying the score, what are the things that you need to know and understand about that certain character? 

We have to enter the story trying to understand the psychology of our character in relation to that of the others and try to understand their gestures, decisions and thoughts. Obviously the most difficult thing is to make it our own and I believe that only in the staging of the work can we make our ideas concrete, thus giving a personal touch to the character we are playing. I hope to soon have the opportunity to see if it really works like that! 

Now you are improving yourself after the guidance of baritone Federico Longhi. How is working with him? How should an ideal singer-teacher relationship be like, in order to help you grow? 

The ideal relationship between student and teacher must be one of absolute transparency, sincerity and mutual trust. At the end of the day, the singer places himself in the hands of the person who is guiding him, and for this reason the vocal coach, as my Maestro likes to define himself, must be competent, aware of what he is doing and how to do it, and only in this way can the singer trust the person in front of him. This, considering my own experiences, is not at all easy, also because a work made of exchanges of energy, opinions and continuous confrontation can only be based on total trust on both sides. In my case and Federico Longhi’s, a wonderful friendship was born immediately, which binds us with mutual affection and esteem for six years now, and while in front of others he is my Master, for me he is simply Federico. The relationship that binds us is therefore doubly strong because on the one hand there is the sacred moment of hard work where I can learn all his knowledge, on the other hand there are all those things and moments that distinguish the best friendships. Working with him always brings me to learn something new, to discover my voice day after day and to him I owe everything, from the seriousness, rigor, discipline and respect that I put into the search for my vocal identity to the serenity and calm with which this search must be done. His greatest teaching, however, and the one that reflects it most of all, is the humility with which one must approach this world, an attitude, that of being humble, that makes it possible to rejoice in every small daily conquest without ever taking anything for granted. All this has meant that for my good luck (and probably his bad luck) he has also become an indispensable psychological support for me because he gives me the strength, determination and courage to never give up. Perhaps the biggest secret of such a relationship is just that, finding someone who believes in us sooner and more than when we start doing it ourselves.

If you had the chance to meet one composer and one character, who would they be and why? What would you ask them? 

Rather than meet them, I would prefer to get to know operatic characters by starting to sing and interpret them, and it would be very difficult to choose one of them. Certainly, though the questions would be endless, I would gladly meet Giuseppe Verdi, only to thank him infinitely for all the beauty he has given us. 

Present or past singers? Who do you admire the most? 

Clearly the singers of the past are an example to all and are admired because they are the spokesmen of the history of opera and singing of the past from which we always learn something. Of course today’s singers are more complete in every way. Technique, acting, versatility are all qualities required at a very high level and that make them complete and competitive artists in a musical panorama in which it is really more difficult to emerge than in the past. 

What are your passions beyond music? Who’s Ilaria when not singing on stage? 

Thanks to my parents I love to travel, visit new places, meet new cultures and habits different from those to which I am accustomed and being a lover of good food and good wine, culinary stops can never be missed. For the rest, I love living with my family, living in the places of my heart, cultivating sincere friendships that, I hope, I have begun to choose with more care. In any case, however, singing remains the first thought when I wake up and the last before I sleep. 

What is the most charming feature about opera? 

For me the most charming feature about Opera is how it makes me feel, the emotions it makes me experience. To recognize myself in a character or simply to be on his side, makes me suffer, rejoice and live with him through music, words and gestures. Opera is a whirlwind of emotions from which it is very difficult to escape and of which one cannot do without. Is there a more all-encompassing experience than this? 

Thank you so much, dear Ilaria! In bocca al lupo!

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