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’
See my interviews with Thomas Young, 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
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
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 in Europe.
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,
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
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
FQ: You’re competing against your own self
every time you get on the stage. You’re competing against last
night’s performance, really.
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
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
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 your programs?
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 great.
BD: At whose doorstep can we lay the
blame for that?
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. To read my thoughts on editing these interviews
for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.
* * * *
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical
97 in Chicago from 1975 until
its final moment as a classical station in
February of 2001. His interviews have also
appeared in various magazines and journals since
1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as
well as on Contemporary
Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited
to visit his website
for more information about his work, including
selected transcripts of other interviews,
plus a full
list of his guests. He would also like to call
your attention to the photos and information about
who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.
You may also send him E-Mail with comments,
questions and suggestions.