Sills, Beverly 1929–2007 [A pseudonym]
Sills, Beverly 1929–2007 [A pseudonym]
(Beverly Sills Greenough, Belle Miriam Silverman, Bubbles Silverman)
See index for CA sketch: Born May 25, 1929, in Brooklyn, NY; died of lung cancer, July 2, 2007, in New York, NY. Opera singer, administrator, and author. Sills was the first quintessentially American superstar of the opera, a colorful and gifted performer who popularized opera on the stage, on television, and through her recordings. Sills overcame a certain snobbishness that once characterized opera professionals and critics. She was not trained abroad; she did not earn her reputation on the European scene; and she was not a certified veteran of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was, instead, a versatile and technically accomplished soprano who stunned audiences by performing the most demanding roles. She brought her roles to life with an acting ability that critics called extraordinary and a lively sense of humor that endeared her to fans of all ages and musical tastes. Sills debuted on the radio as three-year-old "Bubbles" Silverman and graduated to older roles. As a teenager she toured in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In 1955, after several unsuccessful auditions, Sills was accepted by the New York City Opera. She remained loyal to the company for some twenty-five years, even when more prestigious opportunities presented themselves. One of her favorite roles there was the lead character in The Ballad of Baby Doe. Among her best roles, she always said, were her appearance as Cleopatra in Handel's difficult Giulio Cesare, with which she opened the new opera theater at Lincoln Center in 1966, and the title role in Jules Massenet's Manon in 1969. Also in 1969, Sills performed at La Scala in Milan, where her demanding role in The Siege of Corinth captivated an international audience. She went on to perform around the world, finally making her way to the stage of "the Met" in 1975, long after she had proven herself on the international stage. Sills was also a frequent performer on television, where she introduced a new audience to the beauty of the opera, appearing with popular icons ranging from her friend Carol Burnett to the Muppets. Sills also recorded more than a dozen albums, including Manon, for which she received an Edison Award, and an album of Victor Herbert pieces, which earned her a Grammy Award, but she was at her best on stage and television, which showcased her acting talents and vivacious personality. When she noticed the beginning of a decline in her vocal skills, Sills retired from singing at the age of fifty, while she could still leave with dignity, but she could not stay away from the opera for long. Almost immediately she became the director of the New York City Opera. She retired again in 1989, but reemerged to chair the opera company's parent body, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, until 2002, when she became the chair of the Metropolitan Opera that had ignored her talents for so many years. She retired permanently in 2005. Sills was also a tireless volunteer for charitable causes. As the mother of disabled children (her daughter was born deaf and her son profoundly autistic). She was a longtime board chair for the March of Dimes Foundation and a national chair of the Mothers' March on Birth Defects. Sills received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honor. Her writings include Bubbles: A Self-Portrait, revised as Bubbles: An Encore, and Beverly: An Autobiography.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book III, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Sills, Beverly, Bubbles: A Self-Portrait, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1976, revised edition published as Bubbles: An Encore, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1981.
Sills, Beverly, and Lawrence Linderman, Beverly: An Autobiography, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2007, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2007, pp. A1, A14.
New York Times, July 4, 2007, p. C10; July 12, 2007, p. A2.
Times (London, England), July 4, 2007, p. 53.
Washington Post, July 3, 2007, p. A6.