Beverly Sills, the American ‘coloratura queen’, never reached the high status that colleagues Callas and Sutherland had in Europe. In fact, many people did not even know she existed. The reason? Lack of an exclusive contract with an important company. And: she did not travel. As the mother of two severely handicapped children, she wanted to be with her children as much as possible.
Beverly Sills (25 May 1929 – 2 July 2007), was born in Brooklyn as Belle Miriam Silverman. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Bucharest. As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English.
Although she had an enormous repertoire, that ranged from Handel and Mozart to Puccini,, she was best known for her interpretations of coloratura soprano roles. Her radiant high D’s and E-flats sounded seemingly effortless and natural.
She was most associated with Donizetti’s operas: Lucia di Lammermoor, La fille du régiment and the three ‘Tudor queens’. Her Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux is simply the best ever. But also her Manon and Thaïs(Massenet) are unforgettable, as is her Violetta (La Traviata) and all three female roles in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Yes, she sang all three in one evening.
At the age of three, Sills won a ‘Miss Beautiful Baby’ contest, singing ‘The Wedding of Jack and Jill’. From the age of four, she performed professionally on the Saturday morning radio show ‘Rainbow House’ under the name Bubbles Silverman.
When she was seven years old, she started taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling, who remained her only singing teacher. A year later she sang in the short film Uncle Solves It (filmed in August 1937, released in June 1938 by Educational Pictures), by which time she had adopted her stage name, Beverly Sills.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Sills’ Lucia (Westminster 4712502) for me remains one of the best interpretations ever, especially talking about studio recordings. Her portrayal unites the best of Callas and Suitherland: the virtuosity, vocal beauty and pure intonation of la Stupenda and the great acting of la Divina. Not really a great tragédienne (but then, neither is Lucia), she is more of a passive child-girl who just lets it all happen. The rest of the cast (Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccilli, Justino Diaz) is also of a very high level and Thomas Schippers conducts very firmly. But what makes this recording really special is the use of a glass harmonica in the madscene, exactly as Donizetti had originally prescribed it
A New York Times reviewer wrote that it was undoubtedly the most exciting event of the 1970 musical year and I believe that immediately. The performance of 24 October 1970 was recorded live and we are more than lucky to have it.
Julius Rudel (well, what happened to the days we had such maestros?) conducts firmly and with a great deal of love for the work. So beautiful that it makes you want to cry.
Domingo’s voice sounds like a bell and his performance causes ecstatic ovations. And I can be brief about Sills’ Elisabetta: overwhelming! No one, no one has ever sung the role better. She is Elisabetta. You must see and hear this, if only once! The applause after her ‘L’Amor suo mi fé benata’ seems to last for ever.
Below Beverly Sills in the last scene of Roberto Devereux:
Below Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes in the final scene of the opera:
Sills also sang in German.
Below she sings ‘Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben’ from Mozart’s Zaide. In my opinion the best interpretation of that aria ever:
And she sang songs too Below, ‘Breit über mein Haupt’ from Strauss:
Don’t miss the wonderful homage to Beverly Sills, ‘Made in America’ (DG 0734299), with a selection of brilliant archive footage, including La Traviata with Ettore Bastianini.
In this 75-minute portrait, Beverly Sills talks openly and honestly about her life and career. The portrait is illustrated with rare recordings and photographs from the Charles Mintzer Collection.
Below is Beverly Sills’ farewell performance, where as an encore she sings the Portuguese folk song ‘Tell Me Why’ that Estelle Liebling, her only singing teacher, provided her with when she was ten. As a tribute to Liebling, Sills ended each recital with this song.