Known as America’s queen of Opera by her fans, Beverly Sills was an outstanding opera singer. Her career spans four decades including head of many music organizations and charitable organizations. She was the best known American female opera singer in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Beverly Sills was born in May of 1929 and passed away on July 2, 2007. She was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants from Romania. Beverly grew up in Brooklyn and was called Bubbles by her friends. She spoke five different languages including Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English. She attended Brooklyn schools including the Manhattan’s professional children’s school.
At the young age of three Beverly began her singing career. She sang “The wedding of Jack and Jill” in a Miss beautiful baby contest that she won. When she was four years old she started to perform professionally on a radio program called Rainbow House where she performed as Bubbles Silverman. When she was seven she was taking vocal lessons and appeared in a short film titled Uncle Sol Solves It under her stage name of Beverly Sills. At the age of ten she won on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour she later became a regular on another of his radio shows called Capitol Family Hour, a weekly variety hour.
In 1945 she began performing on the professional stage with the Gilbert and Sullivan touring company. This is where she gives credit to her comic timing which she became famous for. She so enjoyed playing the title character of Patience that she learned she had a talent for slapstick comedy. The touring company played to twelve US and Canadian cities and performed seven different Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Ms. Sills then performed for several more years in light operas.
Her operatic stage debut was made in 1945 as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Carmen staged by the Philadelphia Civic Opera. The year 1955 had her appearing in the New York City Opera in Die Fledermaus as Rosalind earning her critical praise. She performed at the landmark Lewishon Stadium before a crowd of 13,000 people with the noted opera conductor Alfredo Antonini with an aria from I puritani. She then went on to perform the title role in the New York premier of The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1958 expanding her reputation in the opera world.
Miss Sills was married in 1956 to Peter Greenough and moved to Cleveland with him. They had two children a daugher born in 1959 and a son born in 1961. Her daughter Meredith or Muffy was deaf and her son Peter or Bucky was mentally disabled and so she restricted her performances to care for her children. In 1960 the family moved to Massachusettes where she began perfoming many roles for opera director Sarah Caldwell.
Her most notable singing years began in 1966 with her performance as Cleopatra in the opera seria Giulio Cesare which helped her become and international opera star. She had many other notable perfomances with the New York City Opera. In 1969 she won acclaim for her high note rendition of Zerbinetta’s aria, “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” while perfoming with the Boston Symphony. Home video tapes of this performance were widely circulated until 2006 when the tapes were made public. The same year she also made the cover of Newsweek magazine with her success as Pamira The Siege of Corinth.
She was labeled “America’s Queen of the Opera” by time magazine in 1971 a fitting title because she so rarely performed overseas. In 1975 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera receiving an eighteen minute ovation for her performance.
She made her first television appearance in “Virginia Graham’s Girl Talk” and became a frequent talk show guest and sometimes host in the years to come. She is largely credited with making opera popular because of her many TV show appearances. She had her own show at one time titled “ Lifestyles with Beverly Sills”. Sills was seen as down to earth and very approachable leading to a modern look at opera divas.
In years to come she sat on the boards of many opera houses and was also chairman of the Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House. She dedicated herself to many causes of the arts and Charities. She made her official retirement in 1980 with a final perfomance. During her four decade career she won both a Grammy and an Emmy along with many other awards and honorary doctorates. With her passing the opera world truly lost something great.