Beverly Sills' greatness and recognition as a coloratura soprano and as a director of an opera company is the epitome of the American success story. Her singing drew millions to the New York City Opera and her general director's skills of the company kept it flourishing.
She was born Belle Miriam Silverman on May 25, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York, to Shirley and Morris Silverman, of Russian-Jewish descent. When she was three years old, she won a beautiful-baby contest after singing The Wedding of Jack and Jill
Her mother was convinced of Beverly's musical talents, and she provided her with lessons in dance, voice and elocution. In the thirties, she performed professionally on radio (Uncle Bob's Rainbow House-WOR) and in the 1938 film Uncle Sol Solves It . In 1936, Beverly Sills began taking lessons with Estelle Liebling, a famous singing teacher, who encouraged her to audition on CBS' radio's Major Bowes' Amateur Hour. She became a member of his company and she was heard every Sunday across the nation.
Beverly Sills launched her full-time career in 1945 when Broadway producer J.J. Shubert was determined to make her a star. She starred in the Gilbert and Sullivan national touring company and the following year appeared in other operettas. When her father died in 1949, she and her mother lived in a one-bedroom apartment where her singing in a private club just about supported them.
For years. Beverly Sills tried to become a member of the New York City Opera. Finally, she was hired and she made her debut on October 29, 1955, as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus which drew raves from the newspaper critics. In 1958, her appearance in the premier performance of the "Ballad of Baby Doe" in 1958, fully established her as a leading soprano.
Beverly Sills married Peter Buckley Greenough, an Episcopalian, whose family owned the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on November 17, 1956. Her marriage exposed her to a great amount of anti-Semitism, as she had been raised in a secular but majority-Jewish community. Upon her marriage, she was confronted with a twenty-five room French chateau on Lake Eric and three children from her husband's previous marriage. She also had two children with Peter, Meredith (Muffy) and Peter Jr. The children, Meredith, was practically deaf, and Peter Jr., was mentally retarded. Sills took time off from the opera to spend more time with her children. She resumed her career when she sang the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute, in January, 1964.
In the late sixties, Sills went abroad and captivated the opera audiences with her singing. She returned home and concentrated on mastering the high coloratura roles repertory. On April 8, 1975, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Pamira in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth and received an eighteen-minute ovation. She continued to sing here until she announced her retirement from professional singing to become the co-director of the New York City Opera.
On a national televised PBS program from Lincoln Center on October 27, 1980, celebrities from the stage, screen. television and opera made appearances bidding her farewell and wishing her the best of success in her new role. Sills, as general director, turned around a debt-ridden New York City Opera into a financially self-sustaining organization.
Beverly Sills is one of the few women who has achieved success as a general director of an opera company and as a coloratura soprano.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.