Thursday, July 05, 2007
It's hard to describe today, thirty years after her heyday, the intensity of Beverly Sills's fame. She was on every magazine cover: Time, Newsweek, you name it. She had her own TV talk show. She was on every TV variety show, from Carson-which she hosted more than once-to Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore. She cooked on TV shows, sang the blues with Ella Fitzgerald, tap danced with Joel Grey and talked about her two disabled chidren while touring chilren's hospital wards and working-a lot-for the March of Dimes. No opera singer had had such profile in this country since Caruso, and he died in 1921. Beverly Sills was marketed as the nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who made good. But it as a long, hard road. Cirtics this week after her death are respectful but point out one truth: by the time the world knew her, she had been singing professionally for nearly thirty years and her voice was past its best. She didn't have the splendid range of vocal colors that Callas had; she lacked the huge voice and astonishing virtuosity that Suthelrand had but she had it all over those ladies in connecting with the audience. And let me tell you something. This tall, hippy forty plus lady was the most convincing Violetta in La traviata I ever saw. Nothing about her sugested illness or fragility but she made you believe, with her voice and with her body that she was a good time girl meaning to grasp one last romp before she died. As Massenet's Manon you believed she was a sexy fifteen year old girl from the French countryside who was probably caught in the haystacks with a stable boy once too often, who transforms herself into a glittering-and young, and slim, which by then Sills wasn't- courtesan. Everything she did on stage was completely believable. The voice at its best glittered like a shower of diamonds. Nobody sang higher or faster or more scrupulously. At the Boston Opera she would come in twenty minues before curtain, throw her coat at someone hanging around-often me-, say "Thanks, honey", hum a bit, climb into a costume and go out and give the most harrowing, beautifully sung performances of deep, magnificent, tragic operas. In the intermsions she'd send a kid out-sometimes me-to the local MacDonald's for a vanilla shake which she would joyfully toss down before going mad or being beheaded in Act 2. This was a pro.
She had a hard life withal, that a lot of people don't realize. I hope younger peple who didn't know her will check out youtube or go to the library for her recordings and DVDs. And learn to do what she did...give joy by singing with joy.