Beverly Sills is the most distinguished lyric coloratura soprano of the 20th Century. Her recordings and performances will bring distinction to her memory as she takes her place among the historical figures of operatic history. In addition to her fabulous stage career, she brought opera to the average American household. Her brilliant singing is the gold standard for singers in the fach known as lyric coloratura. Her brilliant tone and remarkable melissimatic passages of great bravura were unmatched in her day. Sills was the ideal Lucia, Baby Doe, Manon, Cleopatra, and Rosina. She gave definitive performances of each of these diverse roles. Sills had a trill in her early career that was unmatched even by La Stupenda: Joan Sutherland. May God Bless Beverly Sills and her family.
Beverly Sills, the acclaimed Brooklyn-born coloratura soprano who was more popular with the American public than any opera singer since Enrico Caruso, even among people who never set foot in an opera house, died last night at her home in Manhattan. She was 78.
The cause was inoperable lung cancer, said her personal manager, Edgar Vincent.
Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna. Her plain-spoken manner and telegenic vitality made her a genuine celebrity and an invaluable advocate for the fine arts. Her life embodied an archetypal American story of humble origins, years of struggle, family tragedy and artistic triumph.
During her day, American opera singers routinely went overseas for training and professional opportunities. But Ms. Sills was a product of her native country and did not even perform in Europe until she was 36. At a time when opera singers regularly appeared as guests on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Ms. Sills was the only opera star who was invited to be guest host. She made frequent television appearances with Carol Burnett, Danny Kaye and even the Muppets.
Indeed, while she was still singing, and before her 10-year tenure as general director of the New York City Opera, Ms. Sills for nearly two years was host of her own weekly talk show on network television. After leaving her City Opera post, she continued an influential career as an arts administrator, becoming the chairwoman first of Lincoln Center and then of the Metropolitan Opera.
During her performing career, with her combination of brilliant singing, ebullience and self-deprecating humor, Ms. Sills demystified opera — and the fine arts in general — in a way that a general public audience responded to. Asked about the ecstatic reception she received when she made a belated debut at La Scala in Milan in 1969, Ms. Sills told the press, “It’s probably because Italians like big women, big bosoms and big backsides.”
Along with Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, she was an acknowledged exponent of the bel canto Italian repertory during the period of its post-World War II revival. Though she essentially had a light soprano voice, her sound was robust and enveloping. In her prime her technique was exemplary. She could dispatch coloratura roulades and embellishments, capped by radiant high D’s and E-flat’s, with seemingly effortless agility. She sang with scrupulous musicianship, rhythmic incisiveness and a vivid sense of text
Read the entire article in the New York Times. It is an extremely well done piece.