(Above: A scene from the NYC Metropolitan Opera House entrance for the Sunday, September 16 tribute to Beverly Sills.)
Opera Chic was one of the lucky devotees in the audience of the lush Sunday, September 16 joint Lincoln Center/Metropolitan Opera/New York City Opera "A Tribute to Beverly Sills". Those who couldn't catch it in the Metropolitan Opera House had the opportunity to hear it online via Sirius's Met Opera Radio or via RealNetworks playa hosted on the Metropolitan Opera website. Tickets to the event were free, but were only available “day-of”, starting at noon, on a first-come/first-serve basis.
(Above: The scene at the NYC Metropolitan Opera House on September 16, 2007 for the Beverly Sills tribute.)
Only two short months have gone since Beverly Sills passed away at age 78 (on July 2, 2007), but as one with such an illustrious spirit and ascendant personality, recent memory by those who shared her time was not difficult to conjure.
Daughter of Romanian and Russian Jews, "Belle Miriam Sliverman" a.k.a "Cutie Pie Silverman" a.k.a "Cheupee Bow Sipperman" (Pavarotti called her "Bevelina"), Beverly Sills was bitten by the opera bug at the impressionable age of 8, with Delibes' Lakmé at the MET with Lily Pons.
(Above: Program cover of the Metropolitan Opera's Sunday, September 16 tribute to Beverly Sills.)
In her 1976 biography (more on that later), “Bubbles: A Self-Portrait,” she documents her rise to fame in intricate and engaging detail: her first lessons with mentor Miss Estelle Liebling, her marriage to Peter Greenough, the birth of Meredith "Muffy" and Peter Jr "Bucky", with every career highlight (and lowlight) that marked her unremitting presence in the opera world. Evident is how she protected her family and devoted herself to her children and marriage…evident is her involvement in philanthropy…and evident are the life-long friends she held, prominent luminaries and intellectuals.
Among ten speakers and a handful of performances, Sunday night’s tribute brought both laughter and tears. Lots of visible young MET singers filled seats, with a packed house and a supremely mixed crowd from casual dress to formal.
The gold curtains separated at 5:00 pm to a recital stage with a grand Steinway and a podium; behind the Steinway stood seven wooden panels for enhanced acoustics. Stage-center and raised was a giant movie screen where media presentations took place. The movie screen lit-up with a black white film of Sills in a silk, belted dress singing the “Willow Song” from The Ballad of Baby Doe. After the screen faded to black, it was replaced with a black & white smiling image of Sills, which stayed up until the next video clip later in the tribute.
(Aobve: Program of the Metropolitan Opera's Sunday, September 16 tribute to Beverly Sills. Cleek 4 biggar.)
The first speaker was Peter Gelb, current sex-ay GM of the Metropolitan Opera, who arrived well-dressed to the podium. He welcomed friends & family, and gave a special shout-out to Edgar Vincent, Sills former personal manager. Gelb honored also the memory of Pavarotti. He then jokingly chastised Sir Rudolf Bing (former GM of the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1950 to 1972), who was Sills’s “star –crossed lover”, unyielding in his belief that European and internationally trained singers insured the biggest ticket sales, and therefore shunned Sills during his tenure.
Plácido Domingo and James Levine then appeared, Levine at the piano and Domingo standing in recital position. Domingo was dressed in a dark silver suit and a matching shirt, his collar open to the first button and tie-less, with Levine looking stellar in his dark suit and white shirt. Domingo sang “Ombra mai fu” from Haendel’s Serse…hauntingly, darkly, and somberly beautiful.
Next was Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, delivering a memorable speech. But in a navy, untailored blazer and gray slacks…seriously, who dresses this man? Last I checked, he was a billionaire. If Mikhail Gorbachev can shill for Louis Vuitton, surely Bloomberg can work it for someone.
Then the ever-petit Barbara Walters took the podium. She introduced herself and said, “Beverly Sills was my best friend,” a gorgeous endorsement from someone so close to the entire Sills family. She was dressed simply, without any jewelry, in a cream blazer, a short & black suit skirt, black hose and modest heels. Her remembrance was poignant and truly moving, filled with love for Sill’s daughter Muffy, and she finished her eulogy with words from Muffy’s own pen, read on request. Walters was flanked on the opposite side of the stage by a sign-language interpreter, who alternated with a substitute for the duration of the performance speeches.
After Barbara left the stage, and everyone wiped away their tears, a video clip of Bubbles and Carol Burnett from “Sills and Burnett at the Met” (from March 8 & 9, 1976) flickered on the screen. The two sang a few bars, “We’re Only an Octave Apart,” eliciting genuine (and much needed) laughter from the audience.
The clip faded, and was replaced with another black & white image of Sills's smiling face, and the illustrious Carol Burnett took the stage. She had donned a glittering, gorgeous thick silver necklace, and a muted grey skirt & suit. Her short reddish hair was styled in a sweet sweep. She had a prolonged and proud applause by the NYC crowd, OC included. Her remembrance was a bit labored, as she was clearly struggling with wounds so raw, but she was able to interject a few moments of laughter. However, Burnett left the podium wiping away tears.
Now it’s time for Anna! Dark hair pulled back with healthy color from the spa, Netrebko took the stage with stocky pianist Craig Rutenberg (who also accompanied later with John Relyea and Natalie Dessay). She was wrapped in two pieces: on the bottom, a stiff, floor length blackish skirt with a slight plum-colored sheen, tight to her body. The top was a matching corset jacket with a deep, deep plunging neckline and three-quarter length sleeves. She wore jewels on a delicate chain around her neck with matching earrings. Her voice filled the vast auditorium with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Nightingale and the Rose (Oriental Romance)”. A dignified and restrained performance of a pitifully sad song.
Frank A. Bennack, Jr., Chairman of Lincoln Center then appeared in a dark grey suit and baby blue silk tie, dressed like Craig Rutenberg. His speech was well done, but he used the colorful expression,”She could talk a [starving] dog off a meat truck,” when referring to Sill’s incredible sales pitches for fundraising, which had the audience in stitches.
Out came Susan Baker, Chairman of the Board for the NYCO. She was in a black crepe de chine jacket with a white tulle ruffle collar peeking beneath, tight black silk pants, and black shoes. Then appeared a very tall John Relyea, ailing Nathan Gunn’s replacement, to sing “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert. In a black suit with a black shirt and a skinny tie, he sang a most gorgeous rendition, making OC regretful that she will miss the entire season of the Metropolitan Opera.
Representing directly the Sill’s legacy came Stanley Sills, the younger of Bubble’s two brothers, with an escort who helped him to the podium. He was wearing an excellent black suit, with a white shirt and a black tie. He spoke about her book, “Bubbles: A Self Portrait” from 1976, and disclosed that in the very first printing, in the very first paragraph of the book, a serious oversight was made by the editors. The book begins with Chapter 1 (“That’s no seven-year-old! She’s a midget”) like this: “When I was only three, and still named Belle Miriam Silverman, I sang my first aria in pubic.” pubic. lloooooooool
omg it rilly says PUBIC~!!
Well it just so happens that Opera Chic has a copy of “Bubbles: A Self Portrait”. Even better, it is a signed copy, autographed by Sills herself, to a certain Mr. Jack Lowery. If you want your book back, Jack, you can kiss my Cadolle-encased a$$. L(.)(.)k! vvvvvvvv
Stanley went on to share anecdotes of the Silverman family, including Sill’s La Scala triumph (which she credited her big chest and big a$$ for her popularity with the Milan crowds), her love of baseball (namely the Brooklyn Dodgers, where she would go with her brothers to Ebbets Field and sing in the stands with the Brooklyn Dodgers Band), and her aptly-doled nickname that kept all around her in good spirits.
After Stanley, another black & white video clip played. Sills appeared as an adorable, precocious eight year old, in white bobby-socks, white soft leather shoes, and a white nautical-inspired baby-doll dress. With dark curls, she was seriously channeling Shirley Temple. Titled "Uncle Sol Solves It" from DVD “Beverly Sills: Made in America”, the clip was Sills singing an animated version of Arditi’s “Il bacio”.
Nathan Leventhal, former president of Lincoln Center then took the stage, in another grey suit, and shared “random snapshots” of his professional career and personal history with Sills. Then arrived Maestro Julius Rudel, former General Director of NYCO, in a black suit and mauve shirt/tie combo. His voice was wonderfully rich and unique as he shared a smattering of anecdotes.
Time for Natalie Dessay! Singing Richard Strauss’s “Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden” with Craig Rutenberg again at the piano, and her performance was a little on the stressed side in her preparations for next Monday’s Lucia opener. Unfortunately, she was in one of the ickiest dresses I’ve ever laid eyes on. Natalie, you are one of the most beautiful, graceful, spirited, and uniquely (oddly) gorgeous-looking sopranos (like Illeana Douglas) on the circuit today, but honey, that dress did you wrong. A too-thin silk sheath of light, pastel green fell past her shoes onto the stage and clung to her tiny curves unflatteringly. Two thick borders of light lavender silk (embroidered with glittering gems) edged the bottom hem, one circling her hips. The spaghetti-strap top gathered into a “crumb-catcher” bust-line. Sans necklace at her bare chest, and sans scarf, the pale fabric washed-out her pale, delicate tones. Nats, I rite now declare that I will be your stylist for free. I wanna be the Rachel Zoe to ur Nicole Ritchie omg p lz let me swaddle that gorgeous body of yours with all the right fabrics...email’s in the profile tia. i'll even let you dip into my vintage Sigerson Morrison collection to kick around the house.
After Dessay took her appropriate bows, out came Henry Kissinger in a black suit and white shirt. He was obvs the most eloquent speaker of the evening, and regaled the audience with delicious anecdotes. One of the best was bittersweet, involving an ignorant nurse at Sill's hospital when Kissinger went calling, who assumed he was Walter Conkrite. Sills overheard and retorted, “Walter Conkrite is older, and doesn’t have an accent.” He set the haus on fire!
After Kissinger made his exit, a final montage played across the movie screen. A recording of Sills singing an excerpt from Massenet’s Manon, “Allons! Il le faut…Adieu, notre petite table,” and a mélange of photos from La Fille, Giulio Cesare, I Puritani, Roberto Devereux, Thais, and Manon followed suite. Interspersed were loads of images from her personal life, with celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra.
NYCO and Lincoln Center will continue to honor Sill's legacy throughout the current seasons. The Metropolitan Opera will dedicate both the September 20, 2007 Open House for Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and the September 24, 2007 Lucia la prima to Ms. Sills, and continue various awards and events. On February 9, 2007, Toll Brothers Opera Radio broadcast will play the April 19, 1975 Rossini L’Assedio di Corinto, which was Bubbles Metropolitan Opera debut.
Below: My favorite image from the Bubbles autobiography...whaaaaa?
Below: A SASE and program insert from Sunday, September 16, for The Beverly Sills Greenough and Meredith Greenough Multiple Sclerosis Endowment.