Mezzo - Soprano Florence Quivar
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
A native of Philadelphia, Florence Quivar is a
graduate of the Philadelphia Academy of Music and was a member of the Juilliard
Opera Theatre. She has received numerous awards, including the National
Opera Institute Award, the Baltimore Lyric Opera Competition, and the
Marian Anderson Vocal Competition.
Renowned for her rich mezzo-soprano voice, Ms. Quivar is considered
one of America’s most distinguished artists. She has enjoyed many
seasons at the Metropolitan Opera and has also sung with the Met on tour
in Spain. In past seasons at the Met she won critical acclaim for her
performances in Dialogues of the Carmelites, Oedipus Rex, L’italiana
in Algeri, and Le prophète, and as Serena in the Met’s
historic first production of Porgy and Bess. She appeared as Brangäne
in the Los Angeles Music Center Opera’s production of Tristan und Isolde,
with Zubin Mehta conducting
the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Quivar’s extensive operatic repertoire and wide-ranging concert
repertoire have taken her to opera houses and concert halls throughout
the world. During recent seasons, she performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, Bernstein’s Jeremiah
Symphony at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, and Brangäne
in Tristan at Houston Grand Opera. She also made her debut at
Lyric Opera of Chicago during the 1997/98 season in the world premiere
production of Anthony Davis’ Amistad.
See my interviews with Mark S. Doss, and Dennis Russell Davies
Quivar’s discography includes, among many others, a solo album of spirituals
titled Ride on, King Jesus; Luisa Miller and Oedipus Rex,
both conducted by James
Levine; two recordings of the Verdi Requiem, with Carlo Maria
Giulini and Sir Colin Davis; Rossini’s Stabat Mater with Thomas Schippers;
a highly-acclaimed recording of Porgy and Bess with Lorin Maazel; two recordings
of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, with Seiji Ozawa and Lorin Maazel;
and Mahler's Third Symphony with Zubin Mehta.
== Names which are links in this box and below
refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
In addition to the production of Amistad with Lyric Opera
of Chicago mentioned above, Florence Quivar has appeared and recorded with
the Chicago Symphony both downtown and at the Ravinia Festival. A
few of the highlights include the Bach B Minor Mass conducted by
Sir Georg Solti, Poème
de l’amour et de la mer of Chausson,
conducted by Anthony
Pappano, the Symphony #3 of Mahler led by Mehta, and the Symphony
#8 of Mahler and the Verdi Requiem both led by Christoph Eschenbach.
It was on a return visit to the Ravinia Festival in August
of 1992 that I had the privilege of speaking with the distinguished mezzo.
She was warm and charming, and there was much laughter interspersed
with the serious discussion of her artistry. Portions of this conversation
were aired on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago on four occasions, and now
the entire interview is presented on this webpage.
Bruce Duffie: Thank you for coming back to
Florence Quivar: Oh, thank you. It’s always
nice to come back.
BD: Do you like the life of a ‘wandering
FQ: I like a lot of parts of it.
I love the travel to various places, but I tire of being in a hotel
room. I tire particularly of the luggage because I travel with
so many bags. All of this year I would think I can reduce this,
but I never do! I’m here four days and I’ve got three bags.
BD: How much of that is related performance,
and how much is just personal items?
FQ: It’s a mixture of both. Actually,
I brought three gowns because the weather here at Ravinia can change
within ten minutes. Since I’ve been here it has gotten extremely
cold, so I brought a dress with a jacket. I also brought a dress
that’s like air-conditioned, and then I brought another dress in case it’s
the extreme cold.
BD: It was very cold earlier this year.
was here, and before she entered we could see her in the wings. She
had on a very low-cut gown. She didn’t walk out onstage for
awhile, then all of sudden she came out and she had a Ravinia Sweatshirt
over the low-cut gown! [Much laughter] It was wonderful,
and we gave her a great big ovation.
FQ: I love it, I love it!
BD: Is there a particular difficulty or
joy of performing outdoors?
FQ: I enjoy performing outdoors. It
makes the theme summer! [They laugh] Last night we had
a rehearsal, and we were over at Bennett Hall. I’ve been here many
times, but never at Bennett Hall, and just walking through the park outside,
I saw the people with their lunches and candles, and the tables and the
picnics, and that’s enjoyable. You certainly wouldn’t
do that in the winter. The acoustical system here is very
good, but there are disadvantages. Obviously, you have to compete
with the possibility of a thunderstorm, which is threatening for tomorrow
night, but yes, it’s nice, and I enjoy it.
BD: You wouldn’t want to perform outside,
say, in Southern California or Florida, in the wintertime?
FQ: I’ve been at the Hollywood Bowl many
times, but they close that up in the winter. Even in Florida,
it is their cool time, so no, it wouldn’t work.
BD: After living all his life here, my
father retired to Florida, and he said they do miss the change of seasons
FQ: I would miss that, I really, really
would. My sister lives out there in Southern California.
Northern California I like very much. I’ve never lived there,
but I love the San Francisco area. But in Southern California,
I would get so bored waking up all the time to a beautiful sunny day.
I love the seasonal changes.
BD: Me, too. I love the different kinds
of weather we have.
FQ: You’re in the right place for that here in
Chicago. [Has a huge laugh]
BD: How do you divide your career between
operas and concerts?
FQ: I am beginning to do more and more opera,
but I prefer doing a concert.
FQ: I don’t know. It’s funny.
It’s just the way my career started. It started with concert work,
and that’s where I’ve just grown. The other problem in the beginning
was a matter of which repertoire I was to sing. My teacher would
say what I should not sing, and then we had to clarify which ones I
BD: What did your teacher say you should
FQ: Eboli, Amneris...
BD: I see, the big heavy parts.
FQ: Right, right. My voice is
deceiving. I can, indeed, do contralto things. I have that
quality in my voice, but I am not a contralto, as they don’t really exist
much anymore anyhow. Yet I always had the agility. I used
to do wonderful Rossini and Mozart things, and then I had this top.
It was just varied, so that rules out a lot of the opera.
I didn’t do a lot of the bread and butter roles, whereas I could with
the Messiahs, with the Bach, and Brahms, and the various things,
and that’s just the way the career went. But now this summer I did
for the first time Amneris. It was a concert version in Israel,
in Tel Aviv. We did five performances, and Un Ballo in Maschera
I’ve done several times. I have done The Italian Girl in Algiers,
and Le Prophète. I’ve done a variety, but it’s been
very diverse, and this year it seems like I’m going into a pattern. Amneris
was the first in the concert version, and in September and October I’m
in New York again doing Un Ballo in Maschera, and then Aïda
BD: Is it good to try out a role in concert?
FQ: It’s wonderful. I wish I had
the chance to do it for the others, but I travel in November, and I’m
in Bologna for six weeks for Waltraute in Götterdämmerung
for the first time with Chailly. I’m
there for six weeks. After that I go to Los Angeles with the Pacific
Opera, and I do for the first time Azucena. All of these girls back-to-back,
and then next summer in July, for the first time, Eboli in French.
BD: I am always glad when Don Carlos
is done in French.
FQ: Yes, exactly. I felt if I did not
do it now, when was I going to do it? Right after that I go to
Los Angeles to do a staged Amneris.
BD: Will there be lots of concerts sprinkled
in between these operas?
FQ: Oh, God, and how. Lots, lots.
BD: Do you make a point of only singing
a certain number of performances each season?
FQ: That’s been a problem. I have controlled
that for the last two summers. Last year I took off the month
of August, and this year I took off the month of August again. I
just needed that time. In the past I just kept going... you just
do. But I really needed that time, and I must say that this particular
August, it’s like I started working so soon. I don’t want to start
yet. I haven’t finished my vacation! [Both laugh] I had
family come in for two weeks, and although it was wonderful to see them,
I came right in from performances from Israel. It was a thirteen-hour
flight non-stop, and I had family members waiting. For two weeks
I was entertaining them, and then I realized that I had to start work the
next week! So after these performances I have a few days off before
I start back. I have to take a quick trip to Berlin for two performances
of the Verdi Requiem with Giulini, and then I come back to the
Met for Un Ballo.
BD: When you’re entertaining family and
taking a little time off, do you rest the voice completely?
FQ: Absolutely! I do not sing.
BD: [Mildly shocked] No singing at
FQ: No, not a note. I didn’t even
look at music.
BD: Then how long does it take you to get
back into fighting shape?
FQ: That’s exactly what I’m doing
— fighting it! [Much laughter] I’m
fighting it all. I bought a home last summer, which I really enjoy,
and that was my month of moving in. I was talking to Cathy Battle
because she has a beautiful home in Long Island. She said that at
times, all of a sudden you’re just pulling yourself away because it’s time
to go back to work. So, you don’t really get to see it that much.
I’m only an hour and fifteen minutes away, so this year I’ll get to try
it out there more.
BD: When you’re singing an operatic role,
do you make sure it’s no more than twice a week or so?
FQ: When you are a very big name you have
more control over that, but the Aïda we just did was just
a terrible schedule. We did five performances between July 15th
and July 25th. That’s a lot, and you must remember that we had done,
really, six performances (with the dress rehearsal). But it was wonderful.
BD: Do you feel that you’re part athlete?
FQ: At times. I’m the most unathletic
person. [Bursts out laughing] I just don’t like it.
I picked up golf, but no, I’m not really athletic. I’m swinging
the club, and that’s a little enjoyable, but that’s as far as I get
* * *
BD: When you’re offered a role, how do you
decide if you’ll accept it or turn it aside?
FQ: In the past, what I’ve done is ask my
voice teacher, Marinka Gurewich. She is gone now, but I would
just call her and ask her what she thought. I would take it down
to her and look it over. She knew the repertoire, and she knew
my voice as I was with her for about thirteen years, and that was my
Born Marinka Revész in Bratislava, Gurewich trained as
a singer and pianist at the Berlin University of the Arts where she was
a pupil of Lula Mysz-Gmeiner. She also studied privately with Elena Gerhardt
and Anna von Mildenburg in Munich. Her career as a singer in Germany
was hindered by World War II and she fled Europe for the United States
in 1940. Prior to the war she had appeared in concerts and recitals
Marinka Gurewich (1902, Bratislava - 23 December 1990, Manhattan)
was an American voice teacher and mezzo-soprano of Jewish Czech descent.
She is best remembered for teaching several successful opera singers,
including Martina Arroyo,
Marcia Baldwin, Grace
Bumbry, Joy Clements, Ruth Falcon, Florence Quivar, Diana Soviero,
Sharon Sweet, among others.
After coming to the United States, she appeared in a few recitals
and concerts in New York City; but ultimately began devoting her time
to teaching. During the 1960s and 1970s she taught on the voice faculties
of the Manhattan School of Music and the Mannes College of Music. She
continued to teach privately up until her death in 1990.
I would then call my coach, Martin Rich, who also knows the
repertoire, and that’s how it’s been. I have had some weird
offers, and I said no to a few... for instance, the Witch in Rusalka.
I had an offer to do five Delilahs in concert in Brussels, which
is nice, and to record Elijah, so I took that. It’s not
a bad sized part. In Los Angeles, they’re doing The Rake’s
Progress, and I was offered that role, and I’m still deciding on
BD: You would do Baba, the bearded lady?
FQ: Yes, the bearded lady! [Much
BD: [Stroking his own facial hair] They’ll
probably give you one of these plastic things, and you can see what those
of us who have beards really feel like!
FQ: And you really have one! [More
laughter] If I have something like that, I’m out! [Still
BD: Do you sing a few trouser roles?
FQ: Never. [Thinking quickly] No,
I take that back... I did do Orfeo.
BD: [With a gentle nudge] You don’t
really want to play a boy?
FQ: [With a big smile] What???
I don’t ever think of myself as a boy!
BD: So, if you were offered a role,
even if it was in your vocal range, you would turn it down?
FQ: Like what role?
BD: Perhaps Arsace in Semiramide.
FQ: Actually, I was offered that! [Laughs]
did that role very well. It wasn’t about the pants, really, because
she’s dressed in long flowing robes. It’s about agility.
My voice has grown, and I find it harder to move the voice in that capacity.
I did a couple of Orfeos. I did two in Berlin, and the stage
director was very avant-garde. He saves the company money in that
he goes into the costume room and picks up old costumes, and makes it
creative. I was in a male orchestra costume, except for the tails.
Then I did it in Venice, and was in beautiful, beautiful robes.
BD: Tell me about Orfeo. Is he a
nice man to play? After all, he is music.
FQ: Yes, oh my God, he’s the ultimate music.
It was beautiful. I did it with Jesús López-Cobos.
We had worked together for the first time in The Damnation
of Faust in Los Angeles, and we’ve done so many things together. It
was nice. You’re on stage because you’re making beautiful music,
and you just look down and smile at each other. Really! That’s
when it’s really rewarding, when you’re really, really, making beautiful
BD: You look down and see the conductor.
Do you ever look just a little further and smile at the audience, and
have the audience smile back at you?
FQ: On the concert stage, yes, but normally
in the opera house it’s very dark, so you don’t really see faces.
BD: Are you conscious of the audience
when you’re performing?
FQ: Absolutely, yes. You play off of
them. There are times in concerts when something will happen
while we’re creating. Then, if it’s programmed for me, it’s not
creation, it’s rote. You’ve already done that. But you pick
up when things happen outside — be it a
bird that flies overhead, or a child who cries — you
pick up on that.
BD: That inspires you?
FQ: Yes, it inspires and it makes a difference.
It makes it different for you as the creator to interpret differently.
You know the basics and you know what you’re saying, but there may be
a different inflection in the word. It’s music, and it may be
different tonight than what it will be tomorrow night.
BD: Is it always growing?
FQ: That’s what it should do.
BD: Are there any roles or parts that you’ve
sung that you don’t want to sing anymore because you’ve gotten as much
out of them as you can?
FQ: Ulrica! [Laughs] She bought
my house! [Much laughter] I enjoy very much doing Adalgisa,
and I enjoyed very much doing Brangäne. That was a wonderful
David Hockney production in Los Angeles. I enjoyed The Italian
Girl in Algiers because she’s gutsy. Rosina in The Barber of
Seville is a ding-bat, but Isabella is interesting.
BD: She runs the show.
FQ: She runs the show. Rosina doesn’t,
but Isabella is free. She was interesting.
BD: Do you like playing a strong woman?
BD: Does a strong woman on stage speak a little
more directly to the women and the men in the audience, than a weak
woman or a cardboard character?
FQ: I suppose it’s how you speak! I
don’t know of any wimpy characters that I’ve done.
BD: That’s good when making choices for the
* * *
BD: You have made some recordings. Do
you sing differently for a microphone than you do in the concert hall?
FQ: Yes, I hate recording.
BD: [Shocked] Really???
FQ: Yes. I don’t like it. I
wish that we could record live because then you get something. But
the ‘taking’ over and over,
and over and over again... It breaks the continuation of the
energy in a recording when you stop and start, and you go back.
You can’t continuously go like that. It’s hard doing a recording.
BD: Is it not at all like rehearsing, when
you do things again and again to get it right for the performance?
FQ: No, because you’re putting it down on tape.
It’s different. You miss the public, and playing off the public.
The rooms have different sounds when there are people in there.
Of course, they pick prime places to do recordings, and I’ve sung quite
a few. I only have one solo album which is of black negro spirituals,
but I’m on many, many other recordings. There are two Verdi Requiems,
and in fact we were just talking about it because we recorded Oedipus
Rex here at Ravinia last summer with Jimmy, and someone was asking
when it was coming out. [See photo at right; also, see my interview
with Donald Kaasch.]
I had to say that I don’t know, but it should be very soon.
[Laughs, and then thinks a moment] We recorded Luisa Miller
last Spring, and Jimmy said it was wonderful. It should also be
coming out any second. Also Gurrelieder with Zubin and the
New York Philharmonic, which should be coming out soon.
BD: You say you don’t like making recordings,
but I assume you are pleased with them when you hear them, and know
that people enjoy them.
FQ: Oh yes, absolutely.
BD: That’s good. Is there ever a
chance that they can become too perfect?
FQ: [Thinks a moment] Probably, but the
realm of recording now is all the dials. If something isn’t right,
they dial up and fix it. It’s wonderful to be on recordings, but
they’re just recording everything over and over. I guess you have
comparison shoppers who want to compare what recordings they have.
BD: Do you like the idea that when you
record a role that has been recorded a number of times before, you’re
competing against previous great singers, and even current great singers?
FQ: I never thought about it.
BD: Then when you do the role on stage,
do you ever feel that you’re competing against your own recording of that
FQ: You’re competing against your own self every
time you get on the stage. You’re competing against last night’s
BD: That encourages you to do your best?
FQ: Oh, absolutely yes. It’s funny because
when you do a series of four, which is typical with a symphony, the
first night is normally to ‘get it out’, like a last rehearsal. The
second one is quite good, and then the last one you’re probably tired,
and you realize you’re not doing this anymore. Then all of the adrenaline
pumps up, and you put more into it.
BD: Then, is it nice to be reunited with colleagues
at various places and in different works?
FQ: [Laughs] Some colleagues!
Some you don’t care if you never see them again! That’s very seldom,
though. For the most part, it’s a nice group of people.
BD: Without naming names, if you were
offered a role with a conductor or a soprano that you know you didn’t
like, would you turn it down for that reason?
FQ: That’s very small of me but, yes, I
would. In fact, that had a lot to do with one offer I had. It’s
better when you have another choice.
BD: Once you’ve made the decision to do a part,
how long does it take to get it in the throat?
FQ: With the jet age as it is now, we are in an age
of instant music. You have to do things in order to compete.
You start singing it a while in advance, but jumping from job
to job to job, a lot of times you’re singing it in your voice during
BD: Is it then more pleasurable to come
back to it the second and third production?
FQ: Exactly. With the Elijah, Helmuth Rilling is our
conductor, who’s obviously German. This production started out
to be in English, which for my taste would be feasible. It’s
a very long piece, and with everyone singing clearly enough, that would
make it more enjoyable for the audience. But he said he wanted
to do it in German, and when we came in, he was surprised to know that we
do it in English or in German. My previous experience was with James
Levine years ago at the May Festival, and José van Dam was
the Elijah, which was absolutely breath-taking. He speaks English
well, but it’s not his mother-tongue, and he didn’t have command of
it, so then we all had to learn it in German.
BD: Would you ever sing operas in translation?
[Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews
with Barbara Bonney,
Jerry Hadley, Thomas Hampson, and Robert Shaw.]
FQ: I have, actually. I did a production
of Carmen, and it was so crazy. It was the only time I
ever did it, and it was in Caracalla in Rome, and it was in Italian.
I kept calling and asking if they were sure it was to be in Italian, and
they said yes. I worked and worked and worked, and when I got there,
the director said, “Let’s do it in French.”
I insisted that they decide right away before I’d gotten into a long stay
in a hotel for rehearsals, because I don’t speak French. My French
is fantastic when I’ve worked on it, but I hadn’t worked on it.
I had worked on it in Italian. I did not have that recall to sing
it like that, so then they said they would do it in Italian. I have,
by the way, done Così in English.
BD: Do you find any special communication when
you are singing English to people who understand the English, or would
you rather have the communication of the Italian with Mozart?
FQ: Yes. The feeling with Elijah
is that it was first sung in English, so in German, even though it’s not
our mother-tongue, we’ve sung it in English so often that you have to change
it around and the inflection is different.
BD: Let me turn the question around.
When you’re performing in Europe, you know that the audience is understanding
each word that you’re singing.
FQ: You work very hard to have it done
well, and make your diction clear.
BD: Are the audiences different from Europe to
FQ: Yes, they are. For example, in Spain
in the summer, it was really nice. When they love something, it
was [claps in a Spanish dance rhythm] during the applause. Then, you
go into certain countries and get a cold audience one time, and then they’re
very warm another time. But yes, there is a difference, though I
can’t put my finger on just what it is between the countries.
BD: Is there anything you can do if the
audience is cold to bring them in, or draw them out?
FQ: Yes, particularly in a recital when you’re
one on one. I have not done recitals in Europe, but I have one
coming up. Here, maybe I could speak to them. It’s funny
when you say something, even if it’s no more than, “It’s
hot in here.” They become relaxed, and
then you become relaxed.
BD: How relaxed should an audience get
before the performance of a concert work?
FQ: [Thinks a moment] Relaxed to be like
a sponge to absorb, I suppose.
BD: The question I often ask is, where’s
the balance between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?
FQ: I guess it’s about fifty-fifty. There
are those things that you do that you know people will like, and you
entertain along the way.
* * *
BD: When you’re setting up a recital you have
this huge amount of song literature. How do you decide what will
be in each group?
FQ: I coached and studied with Maureen Forrester,
whose repertoire is extensive. She gave wonderful master classes
at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, which is now the Philadelphia College
of Performing Arts. We want to start off in chronological order
of composers, and she said the first thing you do when you do a recital
is something that makes a statement when you come out on
the stage. There’s an interesting series in Pasadena. It was
advertised as being opera stars, so there was a bit of opera on each one.
Mine was in March, and I began with a beautiful group of Purcell.
Then I went to a nice group of Brahms sung traditionally, and then
I did O mio Fernando from La Favorita.
BD: This is another of the operas I would like to
see in the original French. So, did you do O, mio Fernando,
or Oh, mon Fernand?
FQ: I’ve done it in concert version, and we did
it in Italian. Then after the intermission, I came back and sang
the two Charlotte arias from Werther, and then a beautiful group
of Fauré, and Negro Spirituals.
BD: Are you expected to do Spirituals on
FQ: EMI would probably expect me to do
some since I recorded them, but my mother was a fantastic musician, and
started me at the age of six with singing them. My sister also
has a very beautiful voice, and in those days we also had a chorus
that trained in the house. So, I would be in the kitchen cooking
and singing along with them. I do enjoy doing the Spirituals, and
I’ve never done a recital that I didn’t end with Spirituals.
BD: Is singing still fun?
FQ: Yes. It’s wonderful. Sometimes
you come off the stage and you’re still singing, and I’ve been impressed.
It could have been a wonderful evening. You’re giving all of this
energy, you’re using your body, you’re using your soul, you’re using
your mind, and it’s exhausting, and sometimes you just come off and still
sing. But it varies.
BD: Are you optimistic about the whole
future of music and concert life?
FQ: [Sighs] We’re in terrible trouble with
the arts. I hear this when talking to friends in various orchestras
who are in such financial straits... Toronto, which was a very solid orchestra,
Detroit, smaller ones too. As performers, our jobs are not necessities,
we’re a luxury, and when people don’t have food, or they don’t have this
or that, then the arts will suffer. So, I’m optimistic just how
far we can go with the economy the way it is, and a lot of places are
doing very, very good music. However, I’m disappointed with a lot
of performance standards in a lot of places. The quality is not
BD: At whose doorstep can we lay the blame
FQ: It is several things. Partly, it is the
jet age. People are coming fresh out of school
— and that is not saying young people cannot sing well.
We all started at some point — but
when you have to keep up, and you indeed have to keep jet-hopping all
over the place if you want to stay in the race, because somebody else
will take it. So, we do not allow the artists to develop their
crafts, and there are things that a lot of people do that they shouldn’t
BD: The music that you sing, is it for
FQ: My repertoire, you mean? I like all types
of music myself.
BD: Thank you for being a singer, and for speaking
with me today.
FQ: Oh, I enjoyed it. You made it
very, very easy. Thank you.
Artists drawn are shown (l-r) Kuebler, Crespin, Norman, Quivar,
Ewing; also see my interview with Rosenthal.
© 1992 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded at the Ravinia Festival in Highland
Park, Illinois, on August 24, 1992. Portions were broadcast on WNIB
three months later, and again in 1994, 1997,
and 1999. This transcription was made in 2018, and
posted on this website at that time. My
thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing
this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB,
Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its
final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.
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are invited to visit his website for more information
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