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    MsJacquiiC Poetica Magnifique

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    Opera Star Beverly Sills Dies of Cancer

    [imga=left]http://img261.imageshack.us/img261/9594/obitsillssffny134200707ov9.jpg[/imga]Jul 3, 1:06 AM (ET)
    By VERENA DOBNIK
    NEW YORK (AP) - Beverly Sills, the Brooklyn-born opera diva who was a global icon of can-do American culture with her dazzling voice, bubbly personality and management moxie in the arts world, died Monday of cancer, her manager said. She was 78.

    Weeks after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Sills died Monday evening at her Manhattan home, her family and doctor at her side, said her manager, Edgar Vincent. She had never been a smoker.

    Beyond the music world, Sills gained fans worldwide with a style that matched her childhood nickname, Bubbles. The relaxed, red-haired diva appeared frequently on "The Tonight Show,""The Muppet Show" and in televised performances with her friend Carol Burnett.

    Together, they did a show from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera called "Sills and Burnett at the Met," singing rip-roaring duets with one-liners thrown in.

    Long after the public stopped hearing her sing in 1980, Sills' rich, infectious laughter filled the nation's living rooms as she hosted live TV broadcasts, conducting backstage interviews for the Metropolitan Opera's high-definition movie theater performances as recently as last season.

    Sills first gained fame with a career that helped put Americans on the international map of opera stars. She graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines.

    Born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, she quickly became Bubbles, an endearment coined by the doctor who delivered her, noting that she was born blowing a bubble of spit from her little mouth.

    In 1947, the same mouth produced vocal glory for her operatic stage debut in Philadelphia in a bit role in Bizet's "Carmen." Sills became a star with the New York City Opera, where she first performed in 1955 in Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus."

    "She was one great lady," New York City Opera chairwoman Susan Baker said. "She was just a life force - brilliant, witty and warm, funny, exquisitely talented. ... In addition to being an icon of the American opera world, she went on to become a great leader in the world of the arts."

    But it was not until 1975, when she was already famous, that she made her Met debut in Rossini's "The Siege of Corinth." In her memoir, she said longtime Met general manager Rudolf Bing "had a thing about American singers, especially those who had not been trained abroad: He did not think very much of them."

    Abroad, Sills sang at such famed opera houses as Milan's La Scala, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, The Royal Opera in London and the Deutsche Opera in Berlin.

    She retired from the stage in 1980 at age 51 after a three-decade singing career and began a new life as an executive and leader of New York's performing arts community. First, she became general director of the New York City Opera.

    Under her stewardship, the City Opera, known as the "people's opera company," became the first in the nation to use English supertitles, translating for the audience by projecting lyrics onto a screen above the stage.

    In 1994, Sills became chairwoman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She was the first woman and first former artist in that position.

    After leading Lincoln Center through eight boom years and launching a redevelopment project, she retired in 2002, saying she wanted "to smell the flowers a little bit."

    Six months later, she was back as chairwoman of the Met.

    "So I smelled the roses and developed an allergy," she joked. "I need new mountains to climb."

    As Met chairwoman, Sills was instrumental in proposing Peter Gelb, now general manager, for his position. He helped push up ticket sales and pull the Met into a larger spotlight.

    Citing personal reasons, Sills bowed out as chairwoman in January 2005, saying, "I know that I have achieved what I set out to do." At the time, she had recently suffered a fall and was using a wheelchair.

    Still, the word around New York was that if you needed to raise several million dollars in one night, you could turn to Sills, whose name drew donors in droves.

    Described by former Mayor Ed Koch as "an empire unto herself," Sills sat on several corporate boards, including those of Macy's and American Express.

    Sills raised money not only for Lincoln Center but also non-artistic causes such as the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the March of Dimes, a job she called "one of the most rewarding in my life."

    She also lent her name and voice to the Multiple Sclerosis Society; her daughter, Meredith, has MS and was born deaf.

    At a 2005 Manhattan benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Sills told an audience that included her daughter: "One of the things that separates the two-legged creatures from the four-legged ones is compassion."

    Added the host for that evening, Barbara Walters: "She can go from doing a duet with Placido Domingo to doing a duet with a Muppet."

    Sills' nurturing extended to her autistic son and to her husband, Peter Greenough, a former journalist who lived with her at their home as his Alzheimer's disease progressed. He died last year.

    For most of her life, she had balanced the challenges of her private life with the joy of singing, stepping onstage and transforming herself into characters that made her forget her troubles.

    She was acclaimed for performances in such operas as Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe," Massenet's "Manon" and Handel's "Julius Ceasar."

    Her 1958 appearances as Baby Doe would become among her best known, in a rags-to-riches tale of a silver-mine millionaire who leaves his wife for his sweetheart and eventually dies penniless.

    "I loved the role," Sills wrote in her 1976 autobiography. "I absorbed her so completely in those five weeks of studying the opera that I knew her inside and out. I was Baby Doe."

    But as a child star, she was not above singing radio commercials with lyrics such as: "Rinso White, Rinso Bright, happy little washday song."

    A coloratura soprano, Sills was for years the prima donna of the New York City Opera, achieving stardom with critically acclaimed performances in Verdi's "La Traviata" and Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," among dozens of roles.

    She is credited with reviving musical styles that had gathered dust, such as the Three Queens - the trio of heroines of Donizetti's "Anna Bolena,""Maria Stuarda" and "Roberto Devereaux" - in which she starred as Elizabeth, a role she called her greatest artistic achievement.

    Stage fright was foreign to her. Before curtain time, she would make phone calls or munch on an apple, then sweep on to deliver her roles with exuberance.

    She spoke like she sang: words poured out, sprinkled with good-humored gossip and insights, cheeky jokes and probing questions.

    She grew up in a "typical middle-class American Jewish family," as she put it. As a child, she took voice, dance and elocution lessons and at 4 appeared on a local radio show called "Uncle Bob's Rainbow Hour."

    When she was 7, her name was changed to Beverly Sills - a friend of her mother's thought it was a more suitable stage name - and she won first place in the "Major Bowes Amateur Hour," going on to sing on the radio, at ladies' luncheons and at bar mitzvahs. At 16, billed as "the youngest prima donna in captivity," she joined the touring J.J. Shubert operetta company, starring in Gilbert and Sullivan productions.

    Her opera debut came in 1947, in the role of Frasquita in "Carmen" with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. She also performed in the Catskills and at a Manhattan after-hours club.

    Sills' artistic pinnacle may well have been her 1966 City Opera performance as Cleopatra in Handel's "Julius Caesar."

    "When the performance was over, I knew that something extraordinary had taken place," Sills wrote. "I knew that I had sung as I had never sung before, and I needed no newspapers the next day to reassure me."

    Besides Greenough's three children from a previous marriage, the couple had two children of their own, Peter Jr., known as "Bucky", and Meredith, known as "Muffy."



    Posted By MsJacquiiC | Jul 3, 2007
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    MsJacquiiC Poetica Magnifique

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    As an avid opera fan I know Sills' death is a great loss for the Opera Community.
    I'm not all that familiar with her work - but I know her from the Live at the Met series where she introduced the artists and talked about the behind-the-scenes goings-on of putting such a production together. She will be missed!

    Jacquii.


    Posted By MsJacquiiC | Jul 3, 2007
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    PaintedDiary JPiC Mentor

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    Thanks for the post Ms Jacquii....yes, I used to watch her! A great loss indeed!

    Kim

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