Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Here's to Beverly Sills, Diva, arts administrator, talk show host, Opera Ambassador who became more popular with Mr. and Mrs. America than any opera singer since Caruso. Beverly died Monday after a short battle with cancer at 78.

Critics were more ambivalent. Some found her lacking in vocal ability and inconsistent in her performances. My musical mentor Herb was not fond of her and always referred to her as “Beverly Shrills”. But the public loved her, and her recordings, especially of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena”, “Maria Stuarda” and “Roberto Devereaux” are classics. Indeed these three scores were virtually owned by Sills in her lifetime.

Known throughout her life as “Bubbles” and born Belle Silverman, Sills came from a totally different background than many singers of her generation. Schooled in the US, experienced in “popular” singing (her mother fancied her as the next Shirley Temple); she did bring a freshness and lightheartedness to her roles. Whether at La Scala or the Met, at Sara Caldwell’s innovative Boston Opera or even hosting Johnny Carson’s Show, “Bubbles” spread her love of her art.

Her rise to the top was not easy. She fought for every role, was constantly rejected by the Met (for some reason Met Director Rudolf Bing did not like her), performed in smaller venues and more experimental companies and really did not achieve major success until the late 60s. Unfortunately by the time she was in demand with the Met and La Scala, her voice was getting shrill and inconsistent. She retired at 51.

But only from the stage, she began a stellar career as arts administrator, New York City Opera, Lincoln Center and as a final triumph, The Metropolitan Opera. Opera would not be as popular as it is without the tireless work of Beverly Sills. Maybe the critics were right; her voice was not the best of the century. But more than a voice, she was opera for a generation of Americans.

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