Beverly Sills, American operatic soprano, Died at 78

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Beverly Sills died on July 2, 2007, at the age of 78; she was an American operatic soprano whose peak career was between the 1950s and 1970s.

Sills was largely associated with the operas of Donizetti, of which she performed and recorded many roles.

Her signature roles include the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, the title role in Massenet’s Manon, Marie in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, the three heroines in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, Rosina in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, and most notably Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux.

Born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York, to Shirley Bahn (née Sonia Markovna), a musician, and Morris Silverman, an insurance broker, her parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa, Ukraine, (then part of Russia) and Bucharest, Romania.

She was raised in Brooklyn, where she was known, among friends, as “Bubbles” Silverman.

At 4 she made her debut on a Saturday morning children’s show called “Rainbow House,” quickly becoming a weekly fixture on the show.

At 7 she graduated to the “Major Bowes Capital Family Hour,” on which she tap-danced and sang coloratura arias that she had learned phonetically from her mother’s Amelita Galli-Curci records.

As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English.

Sills began taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling at the age of seven and a year later sang in the short film Uncle Sol Solves It (filmed August 1937, released June 1938 by Educational Pictures), by which time she had adopted her stage name, Beverly Sills.

Liebling encouraged her to audition for CBS Radio’s Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour, and on October 26, 1939 at the age of 10, Sills was the winner of that week’s program.

Bowes then asked her to appear on his Capitol Family Hour, a weekly variety show.

Her first appearance was on November 19, 1939, the 17th anniversary of the show, and she appeared frequently on the program thereafter.

In 1959 Ms. Sills gave birth to a daughter, Meredith Holden Greenough.

Two years later she gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, Peter Bulkeley Greenough Jr. At the time Meredith, called Muffy, was 22 months old but unable to speak.

Tests revealed that she had a profound loss of hearing.

In 1975, Beverly Sills performed for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

A few years later, as her voice had become to decline, she retired and took the reins of the New York City Opera.

Sills worked to improve the institution’s financial situation and increased attendance.

After retiring in 1980, she stayed in the public eye for the next three decades as head of music organizations, host of public television specials, and as chairperson for national charities.

With her death in 2007, the opera world lost one of its most visible and endearing supporters.

She was married to journalist Peter B. Greenough from 1956 until his death in 2006.

The couple had two children together.

In her retirement, Beverly Sills continued a life of charitable work, notably as a long-time chairwoman of the board of trustees of the March of Dimes.

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