Sills, Beverly

Sills, Beverly, 1929–2007, American coloratura soprano, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Belle Silverman. Her childhood career as a radio singer (when she was first nicknamed Bubbles) led to voice studies with Estelle Liebling. She toured extensively in the United States and Europe before making her debut (1955) with the New York City Opera singing Rosalinda in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. She subsequently became the leading soprano with that company. In 1966 she first appeared as Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar, the role that established her status as an American diva. In 1969 she made a triumphal debut at La Scala as Pamira in Rossini's Siege of Corinth, the role in which she also made (1975) her Metropolitan Opera debut. Among her other roles were Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani, all four female roles in Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, and the title roles in Massenet's Manon and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, and Lucia di Lammermoor.

One of the great American sopranos, Sills won fame not only for her light coloratura voice but also for her considerable acting ability. She also had an ebullient personality and did much to popularize opera, winning it a broader American audience. After she retired from singing in 1980 she remained active in the arts as an able administrator and fund-raiser. She was general director of the New York City Opera (1979–89), chairwoman of Lincoln Center (1994–2002), and chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera (2002–5).

See her autobiographies (1976, rev. ed. 1981; 1987); biography by B. Paolucci (1990).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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