Beverly Sills at 80

The singer's persona and her book title might not have been in perfect alignment(Photo: Bobbs-Merrill Publisher)
The singer's persona and her book title might not have been in perfect alignment(Photo: Bobbs-Merrill Publisher)

May 29 is – okay would have been – Beverly Sills’ 80th birthday. She died in July, 2006.

Thirty years after her last performances, it’s easy to forget the extent of her fame as an artist.

In her later years she became a slightly over exposed TV personality. She served as General Manager of the New York City Opera, later as Chairman of the Metropolitan and at Lincoln Center.

Persona Not Matching the Nickname

It’s possible that the sunny “Bubbles” persona, well crafted by her and her publicist Edgar Vincent, came away tarnished. Her 1986 memoir, “Bubbles” has a bitter streak to it.

But as a performer she deserved every ounce of her fame. Her Manon and her Traviata were bold, while appearing physically fragile-which God knows the lady herself was not-and exquisitely sung.

Find her EMI recording of La traviata and listen to “Dite alla giovane” (with Rolando Panerai) in the second act.

Here is her a clip from the 1977 telecast of Manon.

The Voice

Sills’ voice lacked the drama of Callas and the security of Sutherland, but no one topped Beverly Sills in musicianship, personality and commitment. I’m sorry that so many young people today could not have heard her in the theater. These days, in terms of connection to the audience, only Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez come close.

It’s worth remembering that while these great years were going on, roughly 1966-1976, Sills’ career in opera had begun in 1949. That’s one hell of an overnight success! She was the mother of two children, both with special needs: a daughter born deaf and a son profoundly autistic and disabled.

As the father of a special needs child myself, I know what it is to become overwhelmed, and I don’t have to sing (And nobody ever called ME “Bubbly”). God bless her.

Comments
  • Roy Dicks

    Thanks Christopher for the great summing up of this wonderful artist’s career, one who makes so many of us float at the sound of her voice.

    For those who like to celebrate her memory, I want to mention that her correct birth date is May 25. You can see the date itself on the photo of her tombstone on the interesting website Find-A-Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?GRid=20236691&page=gr). There’s also an interesting discussion of a slight controversy about her birth date on the Beverly Sills website you quote above: http://www.beverlysillsonline.com/birthdate-controversy.htm.

    Again, thanks for keeping her memory alive for her fans and newbies alike.