Monday, July 09, 2007


Dear Beverly Sills,

The question on today's news quiz that I got unhesitatingly, unguessingly correct was,
7. The classical music world mourned the death of Beverly Sills, a child star who grew up to be America’s first opera prima donna. Sills, who succumbed to cancer at age 78, was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn; what was the name she was known as when performing as a girl?
Well, of course the answer is, "Bubbles," your nickname and the title of your autobiographies from 1976 and 1981.

The New York Times article in your memory was a good one and the picture was very nice, but I remember you more like this, from the days in the late 70's when I was first discovering opera and your wonderful coloratura soprano voice. The point at which I disagree with the Times is this sentence. "Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna."

I think not. You were a diva, but you were never a prima donna, for you were not temperamental and did not assume adulation as your right. That is what we loved best about you. Prima donnas do not sing with Muppets, nor host late night TV shows. But you did, and in doing so helped to make the world of opera accessible to many who didn't realize they could love opera.

You were, without doubt, the 'First Lady' of opera to those of us who heard you sing, and when you took your final bows on the stage (didn't you stop singing a little early) we were glad that you didn't give up the theater. The last time I saw you was this spring when you hosted The Met's TV Broadcast of Bellini's I Puritani. I loved your warmth and encouragement to a new first lady of opera, Anna Netrebko. You were so gracious in your ability to love the voice of another. And in your roles as general director of the New York City Opera and chairperson of Lincoln Center and finally the Met, you helped mentor a whole generation of musicians.

How can we thank you for the beauty in music that you shared with us all of your life? The Italians might say, "Grazie per la canzone bella." But we, we all just say, "Thank you for the most beautiful of songs."



Anne G G said...

I suppose you probably didn't catch the NPR piece on Beverly Sills? I must have heard it at 11 in the morning, not a usual time for listening to the radio, I guess. But they had pieces of an old interview with her, where she talked about leaving music early and how she would rather have people saying "You left too soon!" than "That old bag stayed too long!" It was a really nice piece; I suppose it may be available on the website?

brd said...

Your quote puts a double line under my thoughts about her personability and self effacing attitude. The Times also said, "Asked about the ecstatic reception she received when she made a belated debut at La Scala in Milan in 1969, Ms. Sills told the press, 'It’s probably because Italians like big women, big bosoms and big backsides.'”

She was a real and vital human being and a woman who really made a mark on the world of opera.