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Staff of Maine Resort Makes Music of Note

Times Staff Writer

By day, David Nish garnishes food in the kitchen. At night, Nish, a talented pianist who graduated from the Juilliard School and is working on his doctorate, changes roles. He gives recitals of Beethoven, Chopin and Bartok and takes part in chamber music concerts.

Alice Porte is a cabaret singer with a distinctive voice and a wonderful sense of the comical. As the lead in a recent performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” she brought down the house. She clearly has a chance of ending up on Broadway someday. She’s a waitress.

And Gloria Borbridge, an office worker, stands out as a high soprano. Recently she starred as Miss Pinkerton in “The Old Maid and the Thief,” an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, and as Mrs. Ford in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Talented Staff

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These three young people are only a small part of the talented, youthful aspiring musicians who make up the staff at Quisisana, a somewhat unusual and very popular resort for lovers of good music here on Lake Kezar. Its advertisements, promising a combination of “Maine and Mozart,” tell it all.

Quisisana’s musical staff (the ratio of guests to workers is 2 to 1) is recruited from some of the nation’s most prestigious music schools, including the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Eastman School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jobs are coveted, and some of the staffers come back year after year. Eventually many go on to successful professional careers. Cellist/cabin boy Greg Dubay, for example, has just lined up a job with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.

During the day Quisisana is much like other summer resorts. It has two white sandy beaches, plenty of rowboats, sailboats, motorboats and canoes, plus water skiing and windsurfing. There’s badminton, volleyball and shuffleboard. And there are enough clay courts to handle the very large tennis crowd it attracts.

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Guests can go climbing on Mt. Sabbatus three miles away, and there’s an 18-hole golf course down the road. Bridge is also a popular activity.

Precise Meal Times

The dining room serves its three meals at precise times. Arrive late and you might go hungry. Guests are seated together at community tables for the length of their stay. (Quisisana policy requires a week’s stay, with Saturday arrival and departure.) Most tables seat four to eight people.

Lasting friendships have been made. Some guests who met at Quisisana (Italian for “a place where one heals oneself”) return at the same time every year, even though many don’t see each other during the winter months.

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The hotel is very informal. No jackets or ties required in the evening. The staffers are encouraged to mingle with guests during their time off.

During the day you can find clues that everywhere there is something different, something special, about the place. As one leaves the dining room it is not at all unusual to hear a high-pitched opera voice coming from the kitchen. When someone has a birthday the entire dining room staff joins in the celebration, which resembles a scene from “Aida.”

Music All Day

There is music, somewhere, all day long. You hear sounds of a flute or a clarinet on the tennis court. Everywhere someone is rehearsing or just playing or singing for personal enjoyment. But it is in the evening that the place really comes to life.

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Dinner is early (6:30 p.m.), so it does not interfere with the evening’s musical fare. The waiters, waitresses, busboys and kitchen helpers hustle to finish their chores. They change into costumes. The guests stroll on pine-shaded paths to the Music Hall overlooking the 10-mile-long lake. Then it’s on with the show.

The entertainment ranges from an evening of instrumental music to the “Best of Broadway.” There are professionally staged operas and cabarets.

Quisi, as it is endearingly called by many of the guests who have vacationed here for many years, is more like an adult camp than a luxury hotel. Most of its 150 guests live in cabins on the beach or deep in the woods.

Even the bungalows have musical names: Intermezzo, Pianissimo and Sonata. Daily rates for the cabins during the peak periods of July and August are between $95 and $120 per person, with three meals. In the larger, multiroom lodge, rates are a bit lower.

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During the off-peak period, June 22 to July 1, rates are $75-$80.

Cookies and Milk

Though drinks are served at meals, Quisi doesn’t attract a drinking crowd. It has no bar. After the evening’s entertainment, which never lasts later than 11 p.m., a snack of lemonade, milk and cookies is served. Within half an hour everyone has turned in.

Quisi attracts a largely professional crowd from across the nation--doctors, lawyers, journalists, judges and business people.

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A New England magazine,DownEast, described Quisi’s guests as “a bookish crowd, one that does the New York Times crossword puzzle in one sitting--in ink.”

Quisi was founded in 1917 as a resort for musicians and music lovers. Over the years it has had about half a dozen owners and, until recently, always retained its original flavor.

Then the hotel began falling on hard times. Its reputation for its food and the quality of its music began to slip. But the hotel’s loyal guests wouldn’t let it die. To the rescue came Jane Orans, a 53-year-old widow who had been coming to Quisi with her family as a guest for many years.

Back to Its Roots

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She bought the hotel and, according to some guests who have vacationed here for 30 years or longer, has returned it to its original character.

Quisi’s most famous guest was Vladimir Horowitz, who came in 1962 to prepare for his return to the stage after a long retirement. Old-timers remember that he didn’t give a performance, but guests used to surround his cottage to eavesdrop on his practice sessions.

Which leaves today’s guests pondering the question: Is there a future Vladimir Horowitz on the staff?

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Center Lovell is a three-hour drive from Boston, seven hours from New York. Best bet is to fly into Portland, Me., then drive 1 1/2 hours to Center Lovell. For a fee of $60 Cuisisana will send a driver to pick you up at the Portland airport.

For more information on Quisisana, contact Jane Orans, P.O. Box 142, Larchmont, N.Y. 10538, (914) 833-0293 (until May 30). Or write to the hotel at Center Lovell, Me. 04016. After May 30, call (207) 925-3500.


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