Atlantis Alumni

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Special Tribute to a Great American

City Opera's Joyce Castle speaks of her long association with Ms. Sills.

(below) The lobby of the New York State Theater , Saturday, October 27, 2007, filled with Beverly Sills' family, friends, associates, and City Opera audience members for a special tribute to Sills.

Maestro Julius Rudel.

Jim and I attended a sparkling performance of Massenet's rare yet delicious opera Le Cendrillon yesterday at the New York City Opera. Only a few days before the event we found out that the public was also invited to a memorial for the important American soprano Beverly Sills, after the matinee. Sills died this past year, and there have been tributes to her in many places.

Sills was not only one of the most famous singers developed by the company, but after her retirement she also became the Director of New York City Opera. Then, she served as Chair of the Lincoln Center Board and still later, as President of the Metropolitan Opera Board. Yesterday's moving memorial started out with a live performance, on stage, of the final chorus, "Make Your Garden Grow" from Bernstein's Candide. Sills was the director who introduced that work to the City Opera repertory, just as she brought super-titles to this country.

After the poignant live performance, spoken tributes and viewings of photos and staged performances took place in the upstairs lobby at the State Theater. The mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle served as the main host, and told some humorous stories about working for Sills. The DVD clips included some wonderful excerpts from Barbiere di Siviglia and Manon, sung at the height of Beverly Sills' career. Maestro Julius Rudel, who often worked with Sills, gave an explanation of why the soprano's rising comet in the 1970s meant so much for the company, for the first time placing it in the international rank of top-notch opera companies.

On a personal note I remember, with great pleasure, having seen Beverly in Manon, Julius Caesar, Le Coq d'Or, Louise and Fledermaus at the City Opera in those balmy years when Rudel ran the company. Sills and bass Norman Treigle were top opera stars at the time, along with several others who rivaled anyone the Met could offer audiences. Beverly Sills had a clear, bright voice and a superbly articulated coloratura technique, but she was also capable of lyric singing in a touching manner.

Beverly Sills' last performance of Manon--one of her favorite and best roles--took place in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Music. In that Manon I was an extra, or 'super,' as such walk-on parts are called in opera. In the wings I complimented Ms. Sills on her performance and when she heard I was a super, she said, "Ah, a super-duper." As many people said at the memorial yesterday, Sills was always cheerful, 'up' and friendly. The other comment that came up again and again by those who knew her started out with the words, "Thanks to Beverly Sills, I became a singer/a vocal coach/an opera fan, etc." Beverly Sills was a unique person and she will be sadly missed in New York and everywhere in the music world.

As Jim and Marc often note in this blog, the political scene in our country currently offers few heroes or even responsible politicians. Yet I'm still proud to be an American for the leading lights we have contributed in such fields as the arts, education and sciences. As the memorial yesterday proved, we have made great contributions to music. Hail and Farewell, dear Beverly Sills!


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