The Diva From Brooklyn

>> Monday, August 20, 2007


When Beverly Sills passed away last month, after her second bout with lung cancer, I felt the loss deeply. As a young singer in college in the early 1980's, Sills was one of my mentors from afar. I owned several of her recordings and I used her ornamentations from Rossini's "Una voce poco fa" (The Barber of Seville) in my performance of the aria, and brought down the house with it when I sang it in recital.

Yesterday my friend Jaeson presented me with a belated birthday present. It was a DVD of the documentary on Beverly Sills, "Beverly Sills, Made in America". I watched it this evening and was again awed and inspired by the little black-eyed, dark-haired Belle Silverman from Brooklyn, with the bell-like tones, and absolute perfect pitch, every note in place and every melismatic passage executed with utter perfection. I was thrilled by her perfect execution of the most difficult Handel arias, which in truth, were composed not for women, but for the more agile and powerful castrati of Handel's era, and I was touched and moved by her tender and passionate performance of Manon's "Notre petite table". I shuddered to think that had this little girl, born in 1929, during the rise of Hitler, been born in Europe that the world might never have known her, for Hitler's regime would have murdered her along with the six million other Jews in Europe. Indeed, it was a blessing to us all that she was born in the United States and chose not to go to Italy to study but, instead, chose to stay in New York to study with Estelle Liebling.

She ended her singing career in 1980 and became the General Manager of the New York City Opera, the opera stage that she always considered "home". In 1988 I saw the NYC Opera touring company's performance of Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte", and was touched and inspired once again by this great woman of the opera stage. In 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002, of the Metropolitan Opera, stepping down in 2005.

I dare say that there has never been a more influential nor more loved American opera singer, than Beverly Sills.

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