archive 32 July 2, 2007
A Great Voice Is Stilled
"Art is the signature of civilizations." Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills died today. The world-renowned soprano who went from stardom on the opera stage to become chairwoman of two great U.S. opera companies, had been suffering from lung cancer. And today, July 2, 2007, she succumbed to its ravages. A voice that thrilled countless opera lovers is silent.

It seems as though Ms. Sills came into the world singing. At three years of age, she won a "Miss Beautiful Baby" contest, in which she sang "The Wedding of Jack and Jill" and at age four, she performed professionally on the Saturday morning radio program, "Rainbow House."

Her career continued skyward and by April 1975, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in The Siege of Corinth, receiving an eighteen-minute ovation.

Sills was a frequent recitalist, especially in the final decade of her career. She brought her art to many mid-size cities and college concert series. Through appearances on such talk shows as Dick Cavett, Johnnie Carson and Dinah Shore, she helped to popularize opera.

At a farewell gala on October 27, 1978, Beverly Sills announced her retirement.
My voice had a long, nonstop career. It deserves to be put to bed with quiet and dignity, not yanked out every once in a once in a while to see if it can still do what it used to do. It can't." Beverly Sills

In the spring of 1979, Sills began acting as co-director of New York City Opera, and became its sole general director the fall season of that year. During her time as general director, Sills helped turn a financially struggling opera company into a viable enterprise. She also devoted herself to various arts causes as well as such charities as the March of Dimes.
Although Sills' artistic life was filled with triumphs, her personal life had a great deal of tragedy. The legendary singer had a daughter who was born deaf and a mentally retarded son. She cared for a very ill husband for 8 years and resigned as Met chairman in January of 2005 to place him in a nursing home.

Beverly Sills has died, yet she will live on in the hearts and minds of many. But what about those who never heard her sing? In this era of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the true icons of the arts have been smashed by the sensationalism of shallowness. We have become a culture of lack of culture. And, as we spiral downward among the rapper's commentaries about "hos and Vicadin", the genius of a Beverly Sills might, for some, never have lived at all.

I feel blessed that Opera was prominently featured in the scrapbook of my childhood. My mother was a coloratura soprano who, at one point, sang in the chorus of the Met. Like it or not, my Saturday afternoons were spent listening to Operas and, although I initially rebelled, the music eventually became a part of me. And so, today I mourn the loss of an icon.

"I had found a kind of serenity, a new maturity... I didn't feel better or stronger than anyone else but it seemed no longer important whether everyone loved me or not - more important now was for me to love them. Feeling that way turns your whole life around; living becomes the act of giving." Beverly Sills

Copyright: Judy Andreas 2007