Beverly Sills (born Belle Miriam Silverman on May 25, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York) was perhaps the best-known American opera singer in the 1960s and 1970s. She was famous for her performances in coloratura soprano roles in operas around the world and on recordings. After retiring in 1980, she became the general manager of the New York City Opera. Later, in 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002, of the Metropolitan Opera. Sills continues to use her celebrity to further her charity work for the prevention and treatment of birth defects.
She will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007.Official site: (www.limusichalloffame.org)
Life and career
Sills was born to first generation immigrants of Ukraine and Romania Jewish background. She was raised in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian and English.
At the age of three, Sills won a "Miss Beautiful Baby" contest, in which she sang "The Wedding of Jack and Jill". Beginning at age four, she performed professionally on morning radio as "Bubbles Silverman". In 1938, Sills appeared in the short film Uncle Sol Solves It and began taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling. Liebling encouraged her to audition for CBS Major Bowes' Amateur Hour, and on October 26, 1939 at the age of 10, Sills was the winner of that week's program. Bowes then asked her to appear on his Capital Family Hour, a weekly variety show. Her first appearance was on November 19, 1939, the 17th anniversary of the show, and she appeared weekly on the program thereafter.The dates of the first Bowes appearances are incorrect in most printed sources about Sills.
In 1945, Sills made her professional stage debut with a Gilbert and Sullivan touring company and sang operetta for several years. In 1947, she made her operatic stage debut as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Georges Bizet's Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. She toured North America during the 1951-52 season with the Charles Wagner Opera Company, singing Violetta in La Traviata and Micaëla in Carmen. On September 15, 1953, she made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Helen of Troy in Arrigo Boito Mefistofele and also sang Donna Elvira in Mo. During this season, she also sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. On October 29, 1955, she first appeared with the New York City Opera as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus, which received critical praise. Her reputation expanded with her performance of the title role in the New York premiere of Douglas Stuart Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1958.
On November 17, 1956, Sills married journalist Peter Greenough, of the Cleveland, Ohio newspaper Cleveland Plain Dealer, who had three children from a previous marriage, and moved to Cleveland. She had two children with Greenough, Meredith ("Muffy") in 1959 and Peter, Jr. ("Bucky") in 1961. Upon learning that Muffy was virtually deaf and Peter was mentally retarded, she restricted her schedule in order to care for them.
In 1960, the Greenoughs moved to Milton, Massachusetts (outside Boston). In 1962, Sills sang the title role in Jules Massenet Manon for the Opera Company of Boston, the first of many roles with Sarah Caldwell. In January 1964, she sang her first Queen of the Night in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte for Caldwell. Although Sills drew critical praise for her coloratura technique and for her performance, she was not fond of the role. She noted that she often spent the time between the two arias and the finale addressing holiday cards.
Peak singing years
In 1966, the New York City Opera revived George Frideric Handel's then virtually unknown opera seria masterpiece Giulio Cesare (with Norman Treigle as Cæsar), and Sills' performance as Cleopatra made her an international opera star. Sills also made her "unofficial" Met debut in it's "Opera in the Parks" program as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, though nothing further came of this other than offers from Rudolf Bing for comparatively meaningess roles such as Flotow's Martha. In subsequent seasons at the NYCO, Sills had great successes in the roles of the Queen of Shemakha in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, the title role in Manon, Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and the three female leads Suor Angelica, Giorgetta, and Lauretta in Giacomo Puccini's trilogy Il Trittico. She also began to make recordings of her operas, first Giulio Cesare then Roberto Devereux, Lucia di Lammermoor, Manon", The Tales of Hoffman and others.
In 1969, Sills sang Zerbinetta in the American premiere of the 1912 version of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos with the Boston Symphony. Her performance of the role, especially Zerbinetta's aria, "Grossmächtige Prinzessin," which she sang in the original higher key, won her acclaim. The televised performance is now available. The second major event of the year was her debut as Pamira in Gioacchino Rossini's Le siège de Corinthe at La Scala, a success that put her on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Her now high-profile career landed her on the cover of Time magazine in 1971, labeling her as "America's Queen of Opera." The title was appropriate because Sills had purposely limited her overseas engagements because of her family. Her major overseas appearances include debuts at London's Royal Opera House, Milan's La Scala and in Naples, the Vienna State Opera, Lausanne in Switzerland, and concerts in Paris. In South America, she sang in the opera houses of Buenos Aires and Santiago, and appeared in several productions in Mexico City, including Lucia di Lammermoor with Luciano Pavarotti.
In April 1975, Sills made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in The Siege of Corinth , receiving an eighteen-minute ovation, though she had sung with the company as Donna Anna in . Other operas she sang at the Met include La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Thaïs, and Don Pasquale . But Sills also continued to perform for New York City Opera, her home opera house, essaying new roles right up to her retirement, including the leading roles in Rossini's Turk in Italy, Lehár's The Merry Widow and Gian-Carlo Menotti's La Loca , a role written especially for her.
Although Sills' voice type was characterized as a "lyric coloratura", she took on a number of heavier roles more associated with spinto sopranos as she grew older, including Violetta in La Traviata and Donizetti's Tudor Queens - Anna Bolena , Maria Stuarda , and Roberto Devereux . She was admired in those roles for transcending the lightness of her voice with dramatic interpretation, although it may have come at a cost; Sills later commented that Roberto Devereux "shortened her career by at least four years."
Sills was a frequent recitalist, especially in the final decade of her career. She sang in many mid-size cities and on numerous college concert series, bringing her art to many who might never see her on stage in a fully staged opera. She also sang concerts with a number of symphony orchestras. Sills was perhaps a more important force for popularizing opera than any other singer of her era through her many appearances on talk shows, including those with Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore. Sills even had her own talk show, "Lifestyles with Beverly Sills" on NBC.
In 1978, Sills announced she would retire on October 27, 1980, in a farewell gala at the New York City Opera. In the spring of 1979, she began acting as co-director of NYCO, and became its sole general director as of the fall season of that year, a post she held until 1989, although she remained on the NYCO board until 1991. During her time as general director, Sills helped turn what was then a financially struggling opera company into a viable enterprise. She also devoted herself to various arts causes and such charities as the March of Dimes.
From 1994 to 2002, Sills was chairman of Lincoln Center. In October 2002, she agreed to serve as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, for which she had been a board member since 1991. She resigned as Met chairman in January 2005, citing family as the main reason (she had finally had to place her husband, whom she had cared for over 8 years, in a nursing home). She stayed long enough to supervise the appointment of Peter Gelb, formerly head of Sony Classical Records, as the Met's General Manager, to succeed Joseph Volpe (opera) in August 2006.
Peter Greenough, Sills's husband, died on September 6 2006, at the age of 89.http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/08/obituaries/08greenough.html?ref=obituaries
Recordings and broadcasts
During her operatic career, Sills recorded eighteen full-length operas. She also starred in eight opera productions televised on PBS and participated in such specials as A Look-in at the Met with Danny Kaye in 1975, Sills and Burnett at the Met, with Carol Burnett in 1976, and Profile in Music, which won an Emmy Award for its showing in the US in 1975, although it had been recorded in England in 1971.
For many years, Sills has been the host for PBS broadcasts from Lincoln Center and is still sought after for speaking engagements.
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/