Sills Beverly (real name, Belle Miriam Silverman)

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Sills Beverly (real name, Belle Miriam Silverman)

Sills, Beverly (real name, Belle Miriam Silverman), celebrated American soprano and opera administrator; b. N.Y, May 25, 1929. At the age of 3, she appeared on the radio under the cute nickname “Bubbles,” and won a prize at a Brooklyn contest as “the most beautiful baby of 1932.” At 4, she joined a Saturday morning children’s program, and at 7 she sang in a movie. At 10, she had a part on the radio show “Our Gal Sunday.” Her natural thespian talent and sweet child’s voice soon proved to be valuable financial assets. She did a commercial advertising Rinso White soap, and appeared on an early television program, “Stars of the Future.” She began formal vocal studies with Estelle Liebling when she was 7; also studied piano with Paolo Gallico; in Public School 91 in Brooklyn she was voted most “likely to succeed.” In 1947 she made her operatic debut as Frasquita in Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Opera; then toured with several operas companies, and sang with the San Francisco Opera (1953) and the N.Y.C. Opera (1955), quickly establishing herself at the latter as one of its most valuable members. She extended her repertoire to embrace modern American operas, including the title role of Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe; she also sang in the American premiere of Luigi Nono’s avant-garde opera Intolleranza 1960. She was a guest singer at the Vienna State Opera and in Buenos Aires in 1967, at La Scala in Milan in 1969, and at Covent Garden in London and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in 1970. She made her first appearance with the Metropolitan Opera as Donna Anna in a concert production of Don Giovanni on July 8, 1966, at the Lewisohn Stadium in N.Y.; her formal debut with the Metropolitan took place at Lincoln Center in N.Y. as Pamira in Le Siège de Corinthe on April 7, 1975. At the height of her career, she received well-nigh universal praise, not only for the excellence of her voice and her virtuosity in coloratura parts, but also for her intelligence and erudition, rare among the common run of operatic divas. She became general director of the N.Y.C. Opera in 1979, and made her farewell performance as a singer in 1980. She showed an uncommon administrative talent; during her tenure with the N.Y.C. Opera, she promoted American musicians and broadened the operatic repertoire. In 1988 she retired from her post with the N.Y.C. Opera. In 1994 she was named chairwoman of Lincoln Center. In her personal life, she suffered a double tragedy; one of her 2 children was born deaf, and the other autistic. In 1972 she accepted the national chairmanship of the Mothers′ March on Birth Defects. She publ. Bubbles: A Self-portrait (N.Y, 1976; second ed., rev., 1981, as Bubbles: An Encore) and Beverly: An Autobiography (N.Y, 1987). She received (deservedly so) honorary doctorates from Harvard Univ., N.Y.U., and the Calif. Inst. of the Arts. On Nov. 22, 1971, she was the subject of a cover story in Time. In 1980 she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1998 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her most notable roles included Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Lucia, Elisabeth in Roberto Devereux, Anna Bolena, Elvira in I puritani, and Maria Stuarda.


M. Kerby, B. S.: America’s Own Opera Star (N.Y., 1989); B. Paolucci, B. S.(N.Y., 1990).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire