BEVERLY SILLS Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Beverly Sills.                                                                     
Born: 25 May 1929                                                                         
Died: 2 July 2007                                                                         
Beverly Sills (May 25, 1929 – July 2, 2007) was an American operatic soprano who       
enjoyed success 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 from singing in 1980, she became the general manager of the New York             
City Opera. In 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002,         
of the Metropolitan Opera, stepping down in 2005. Sills lent her celebrity to             
further her charity work for the prevention and treatment of birth defects.               
Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York to Shirley Bahn (née         
Sonia Markovna), a musician, and Morris Silverman, an insurance broker. Her               
parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Bucharest, Romania. She was               
raised in Brooklyn, where she was known, among friends, as "Bubbles" Silverman.           
As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English. She                 
attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan's                     
Professional Children's School.                                                           
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 the Saturday morning radio program, "Rainbow House," as "Bubbles"       
Silverman. Sills began taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling at the age           
of seven and a year later sang in the short film Uncle Sol Solves It (filmed             
August 1937, released June 1938 by Educational Pictures), by which time she had           
adopted her stage name, Beverly Sills. Liebling encouraged her to audition for           
CBS Radio's 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 Capitol Family Hour, a weekly variety show. Her first appearance was on               
November 19, 1939, the 17th anniversary of the show, and she appeared frequently         
on the program thereafter.                                                               
In 1945, Sills made her professional stage debut with a Gilbert and Sullivan             
touring company produced by Jacob J. Shubert, playing twelve cities in the US             
and Canada, offering seven different Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In her 1987             
autobiography, she credits that tour with helping to develop the comic timing             
she soon became famous for: "I played the title role in Patience, and I                   
absolutely loved the character, because Patience is a very funny, flaky girl....         
I played her as a dumb Dora all the way through and really had fun with the role....     
My Patience grew clumsier and clumsier with each performance, and audiences               
seemed to like her.... I found that I had a gift for slapstick humor, and it was         
fun to exercise it onstage." Sills sang in light operas for several more                 
On July 09, 1946, Sills appeared as a contestant on Arthur Godfrey's Talent               
Scouts (radio). She sang under the pseudonym of Vicki Lynn,because she was still         
under contract to J. J. Schubert. Schubert did not want Godfrey to be able to             
say he had discovered "Beverly Sills" if she won the contest (she didn't). Sills         
sang "Romany Life" from Victor Herbert's "Fortune Teller."                               
In 1947, she made her operatic stage debut as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in             
Bizet's Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. She toured North America with           
the Charles Wagner Opera Company, in the fall of 1951 singing Violetta in La             
traviata and, in the fall of 1952, singing Micaëla in Carmen. On September 15,           
1953, she made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Helen of Troy in Boito's         
Mefistofele and also sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni the same season. On               
October 29, 1955, she first appeared with the New York City Opera as Rosalinde           
in Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus, which received critical praise. As early           
as 1956 she performed before an audience of over 13,000 guests at the landmark           
Lewisohn Stadium with the noted operatic conductor Alfredo Antonini in an aria           
from Vincenzo Bellini's I puritani. 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 The Plain Dealer and moved to Cleveland. She had two children             
with Greenough, Meredith ("Muffy") in 1959 and Peter, Jr. ("Bucky") in 1961.             
Muffy was profoundly deaf and Peter was severely mentally disabled. Sills                 
restricted her performing schedule to care for her children.                             
In 1960, Sills and her family moved to Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston. In             
1962, Sills sang the title role in Massenet's Manon with the Opera Company of             
Boston, the first of many roles for opera director Sarah Caldwell. Manon                 
continued to be one of Sills' signature roles throughout most of her career. In           
January 1964, she sang her first Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute           
for Caldwell. Although Sills drew critical praise for her coloratura technique           
and for her performance, she was not fond of the latter role; she observed that           
she often passed the time between the two arias and the finale addressing                 
holiday cards.                                                                           
In 1966, the New York City Opera revived Handel's then virtually unknown opera           
seria 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 its "Opera in the Parks" program as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni,             
though nothing further came of this other than offers from Rudolf Bing for 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 Rimsky-Korsakov's Le coq d'or,         
the title role in Manon, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and the three female           
leads Suor Angelica, Giorgetta, and Lauretta in Puccini's trilogy Il trittico.           
In 1969, Sills sang Zerbinetta in the American premiere (in a concert version)           
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. Home             
video-taped copies circulated among collectors for years afterwards, often               
commanding large sums on Internet auction sites (the performance was released             
commercially in 2006, garnering high praise). The second major event of the year         
was her debut as Pamira in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth at La Scala, a success         
that put her on the cover of Newsweek magazine.                                           
Sills' 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 London's Covent Garden, Milan's La Scala, La           
Fenice in Venice, the Vienna State Opera, the Theatre de Beaulieu in Lausanne,           
Switzerland, and concerts in Paris. In South America, she sang in the opera               
houses of Buenos Aires and Santiago, a concert in Lima, Peru, and appeared in             
several productions in Mexico City, including Lucia di Lammermoor with Luciano           
Pavarotti. She also began to make recordings of her operas, first Giulio Cesare           
(1967) then Roberto Devereux (1969), Lucia di Lammermoor (1970), Manon (1970),           
La traviata (1971), Maria Stuarda (1971), The Tales of Hoffmann (with Treigle,           
1972), Anna Bolena (1972), I puritani (1973), Norma (1973), The Siege of Corinth         
(1974), Il barbiere di Siviglia (1974-75), I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1975),               
Thaïs (1976), Louise (1977), Don Pasquale (1978) and Rigoletto (1978).                   
During this period, she made her first television appearance as a talk-show               
personality on "Virginia Graham's Girl Talk," a weekday series syndicated by ABC         
Films. An opera fan who was Talent Coordinator for the series, persuaded the             
producer to put her on the air and she was a huge hit. Throughout the rest of             
her career she shone as a talk show guest, sometimes also functioning as a guest         
host. Sills underwent successful surgery for ovarian cancer in late October,             
1974 (sometimes misreported as breast cancer). Her recovery was so rapid and             
complete that she opened in "Daughter of the Regiment" at the San Francisco               
Opera a month later.                                                                     
Following Sir Rudolf Bing's departure as director, Sills finally made her debut           
at the Metropolitan Opera on April 7, 1975 in The Siege of Corinth, receiving an         
eighteen-minute ovation. Other operas she sang at the Met include La traviata,           
Lucia di Lammermoor, Thaïs, and Don Pasquale (directed by John Dexter). In an           
interview after his retirement, Bing stated that his refusal to use Sills, as             
well as his preference for engaging, almost exclusively, Italian stars such as           
Renata Tebaldi - due to his notion that American audiences expected to see               
Italian stars - was the single biggest mistake of his career. Sills attempted to         
downplay her animosity towards Bing while she was still singing, and even in her         
two autobiographies. But in a 1997 interview, Sills spoke her mind plainly, "Oh,         
Mr. Bing is an ass. [W]hile everybody said what a great administrator he was and         
a great this, Mr. Bing was just an improbable, impossible General Manager of the         
Metropolitan Opera.... The arrogance of that man."                                       
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 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 Il             
Turco in Italia, Lehár's Die lustige Witwe 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 spinto and dramatic coloratura roles more associated with         
heavier voices as she grew older, including Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia (with             
Susanne Marsee as Orsini) and the same composer's Tudor Queens, Anna Bolena,             
Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux (opposite Plácido Domingo in the title part).         
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 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, David Frost, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and             
Dinah Shore. Sills even had her own talk show, "Lifestyles with Beverly Sills"           
on NBC. In 1979 she even appeared on The Muppet Show. Down-to-earth and                   
approachable, Sills helped dispel the traditional image of the temperamental             
opera diva.                                                                               
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 and was           
sought after for speaking engagements on college campuses and for fund raisers.           
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 eight 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 in August 2006.                     
Peter Greenough, Sills' husband, died on September 6, 2006, at the age of 89.             
They would have had their 50th wedding anniversary on November 17, 2006.                 
She co-hosted The View for Best Friends Week on November 9, 2006, as Barbara             
Walters' best friend. She said that she didn't sing anymore, even in the shower,         
to preserve the memory of her voice.                                                     
She appeared on screen in movie theaters during HD transmissions live from the           
Met, interviewed during intermissions by the host Margaret Juntwait on January 6,         
2007 (I puritani simulcast), as a backstage interviewer on February 24, 2007 (Eugene     
Onegin simulcast) and then, briefly, on April 28, 2007 (Il trittico simulcast).           
On June 28, 2007, the Associated Press and CNN reported that Sills was                   
hospitalized as "gravely ill," from lung cancer. With her daughter at her                 
bedside, Beverly Sills succumbed to cancer on July 2, 2007, at the age of 78.