Beverly Sills, the uniquely American coloratura soprano, died this evening. I heard the news while driving home from the train station. I can honestly say that Ms. Sills inspired me and informed my singing. When I was a child, my mom used to play her recordings on the stereo, and I often warbled along with her, just as she used to warble along with Amelia Galli-Curci in her own childhood.
I loved listening to Ms. Sills, and I had the great good fortune to see her perform with Sarah Caldwell in “Il Barbieri di Siviglia” at the less-than-acoustically-perfect Hynes Auditorium – or was it at Brandeis? I can’t remember. I was 9. For a little girl from Jamaica Plain, it was pure magic to see her singing a duet with a bird (flute), and to hear her perform Una Voce Poco Fa with such elan and infectious enthusiasm. I never got to see her perform in New York. But her recordings, radio appearances and, yes, Muppet Show appearances (“Pigoletto”, anyone?) still bring a smile to my face.
I have to admit that my favorite recording is of her singing “Ruhe Sanft” from Mozart’s “Zaïde”. It is one of the most devastatingly difficult pieces in the rep, in many ways more demanding than any bel canto. She sang it with an astonishing technique that can bring tears to your eyes.
Schlaf gut, Ms. Sills. And may angels speed you to your rest.