Beverly Sills: A Titan of Artistic Grace & Business Savvy

by:

Brad Kronen

When a person is born with the planet which oversees one’s emotions namely the Moon, placed within the most light-hearted of signs, Sagittarius, they are endowed with a natrally“happy-go-lucky” kind of personality, where their feelings,   in particular their reactions, are always assumed by others to be extremely positive. Where it’s presumed  that no matter how difficult or painful the events  which are happening to them at any given moment , they are always  counted on to “land on their feet” and  shake  off whatever remains of the  hardship that ensues.  It also becomes inconceivable that same person who must play the role of inspirational cheerleader whenever anyone else faces intense pain or resentment, could suffer feelings of inadequacy.  When that same person in question is born with their Sagittarian Moon located just a few degrees away from the heavenly body which oversees such soul- wrenching things as Karma and Life’s Lessons Learned the Hard Way, better known as the ringed Planet Saturn placed also in the same happy-go-lucky sign ,a person must face an entire lifetime where their most emotionally dark experiences are overlooked and never taken too seriously or even at face value.  Where it becomes expected they will always react to the most devastating of emotional heartache with a full-bodied hearty laugh.

This was the fate of the woman whom the world would come to know and admire as Beverly Sills.

She was born a Gemini named Belle Silverman in the Crown Heights section of the borough of Brooklyn on May 25th, 1929. Judging by her “Big Three” of her Gemini Sun, Aquarius Ascendant, and as already mentioned Sagittarius Moon, little Belle had a buoyant and infectiously positive temperament.  So much so, in her neighborhood Sills was known by her nickname “Bubbles” Silverman, a term of endearment that would be associated with Sills her entire life. Her inherent quirkiness and naturally unique stage presence were evident by her Aquarian Ascendant, and her   Sun – Jupiter conjunction provided her the easy-going personality where she got along with nearly everyone she dealt with .Singing professionally from the age of 4,Sills made her professional stage debut in 1945 while performing with a touring company that specialized in the works of Gilbert & Sullivan.  It was here that Bubbles realized she had  a natural talent for comedy and slapstick humor.


Those who are born with Aquarius on the Ascendant or Aquarius Rising become quite used to setting new standards to set as an example for the rest of us.  In other words, those born with the sign of Aquarius on the Horizon are used to being those who establish “firsts”, usually by undoing whatever had already been pre-established as the accepted norm. In mid-20th century America, the world of Classical Music was, For the most part, unknown territory to the average American. Beverly Sills sought to change all that. Her ultimate goal was to make Classical Music more accessible to the American public.  Wishing to remove  the high-brow association attached to Classical Music, Beverly Sills as the Ambassador of Classical Music and Opera did her utmost to expose the American masses to unique classical  opportunities  by integrating them within the televised schedules of many general programs considered popular at that time.  With her inherently natural communication skills, Beverly Sills introduced much of the the world to Classical Music with an entirely new perspective. 

Beverly Sills made her operatic debut singing the role of the Spanish gypsy, Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen with the Civic Grand Opera in Philadelphia In 1947and in September of 1953 sang the role of Helen of Troy in Boito’s ”Mefistofele” with the San Francisco Opera.  In 1955, Sills also performed the role of Rosalinde in Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” with the New York City Opera. In 1958. the soprano then performed the title role in the world premiere of Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe.

On November 17th, 1956, Sills married journalist, Peter Greenough and the couple settled to live in Cleveland, Ohio. As her international singing career was about to take off, Beverly gave birth to two children, Meredith, or “Muffy”, and Peter Jr..  Muffy was born completely deaf and suffered from multiple sclerosis, and Peter Jr. was born  severely autistic.

By the late 1950’s Sills displayed her greatest strengths as an opera singer by performing the coloratura soprano repertoire which requires that the voice be fast moving and accompanied by a brilliantly stratospheric high register.

Fiercely diving into the coloratura repertoire, Sills sang her first Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in 1964.  She did not enjoy the part, joking that there was such a  vast amount of time between the character’s two arias, the role gave her the extra time to “address her holiday cards”.

Being born a Gemini, the first of the Air signs is known as the wordsmith of the Zodiac, Beverly revealed her verbal eloquence early in her career when she was known to have said the following:

Throughout the 1960’s,Sills was for the most part unknown in both Europe and the United States, until the revival of Giulio Cesare. Written by George Frederick Handel  in 1724, the opera was revived by the New York City Opera.  At the time of its revival in 1966, the opera was all but unknown.  Sills sang the role of Cleopatra opposite the Julius Cesar of bass, Norman Treigle.  The chemistry and electrifying acting between the two leads not only resurrected the opera back into the operatic repertoire of the 20th century, Guilio Cesare also was the vehicle which catapulted Treigle’s and Sills’ singing careers and established them both as international singing sensations.

Beverly Sills in the role that nade her an international singing star- Cleopatra in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare”

In the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’the list of operas used to showcase the vocal abilities of the coloratura soprano was limited at best. Operas believed to have fallen out of fashion like Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” were given renewed emphasis to highlight the acting talents of singers like Maria Callas.  Realizing her flawless singing and stunning sound were what drew audiences to opera houses, Beverly Sills used her celebrity to champion other operas considered long forgotten that were the ideal vehicles for her voice.  In  the case of the early 19th century operas written by Gaetano Donizetti, Beverly Sills’ active involvement endowed them with invigorated interest by opera goers in the 20th century, most especially the vocally  3 demanding  roles which depicted  16th century English royalty known as the ”Donizetti Queens” that  often were subsequentially staged together: Anna Bolena (Ann Boleyn), Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart) , and Queen Elizabeth I in the tragic opera seria, Roberto Deveraux (which Sills claimed shaved 4 years off her professional career).  She became such an acclaimed favorite singing these parts which were presumed to be long dead and buried, the soprano’s immense popularity landed her the covers of both Time and NEWSWEEK in a span of just 2 years during the early 1970’s:

Beverly Sills on the April 21st, 1969 cover of NEWSWEEK Magazine. The image shows the operatic soprano taking her stage bow at her curtain calls  at Milan’s La Scala opera house in the company’s production of Rossini’s “The Siege of Corinth”.  The cover reads “Beverly Sills: New High for American Singer”

Beverly Sills on the cover of TIME Magazine dated November 22nd, 1971.  Dressed as Queen Elizabeth I of England in Donizetti’s opera “Roberto Deveraux” the cover showed a banner in its upper left corner which read: “America’s Queen of Opera”.

Despite TIME’s self- bequeathed title of musical royalty, this period of hard-sought recognition was accompanied by its share of hardship for Bubbles.  In October of 1974, Beverly underwent surgery for ovarian cancer.  No doubt her positive temperament was a significant asset to her health, with Wikipedia.org describing her recovery as being “so rapid and complete”, she was able to open the San Francisco Opera ‘s official season performing the title role in Donizetti’s comedy “The Daughter of the Regiment” just one month later.

Sills versus Bing
When her covers in Time and NEWSWEEK Magazines hit newsstands, it was generally assumed that an invitation to sing at the Metropolitan Opera  was inevitably soon to follow.

.

The arrogant Mr. Rudolf Bing, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera , 1950-1972

Unfortunately, no such invitation came.

The Met’s General Manager throughout the 1960’s and 70’s was Rudolf Bing, a Viennese born impresario who claimed Americans wanted to see European singers if they went to the opera, most especially Italians.  Bing would later claim that his resolute decision to not use Sills was “the single biggest mistake of his career”. When told his words in a 1997 interview, Beverly retorted  “Mr. Bing is an ass.  He was just an improbable, impossible General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera…. The arrogance of that man.”

Sills had to wait for Bing’s retirement in order to make her Metropolitan Opera  debut at the age of 46 when she sang the lead role of Pamira in Rossini’s “The Siege of Corinth” on April 7th, 1975.  The soprano received a roaring ovation of applause when she stepped on stage for a full 18 minutes before singing a single note.

When a person is born with the planets Venus and her “chart ruler” Uranus placed in the Fire sign of Aries along with the planet Mars being positioned in the Fire sign of Leo, as well as their Moon and Saturn placed in the Fire sign of Sagittarius, it can be safely presumed not only does that person possess a seemingly endless supply of energy, it can also be said they tend to be fearless souls as well.

This could explain Beverly Sills’ reputation for being not just an internationally acclaimed opera singer, but a well respected and highly admired business woman and charity spokesperson as well.

The official recording of Rossini’s gem that was practically unknown at the tme which Beverly Sills triumphed performing at Milan’s La Scala and made her debut singing at the Metropolitan Opera, “The Siege of Corinth”. The woman shown next to Sills is one of Brad’s favorite singers whom he has also written extensively about: Miss Shirley Verrett.

Sills The Arts Administrator

In 1980, Beverly Sills bid “Farewell” to her singing career with a Farewell Gala at her home opera house at New York City Opera and by sharing the stage with fellow internationally famous coloratura soprano, Dame Joan Sutherland, when they co-starred in a production of “Die Fledermaus”at the San Diego Opera

Beverly Sills ended her singing career in 1980.. Drawing from her extensive knowledge as America’s most well-known and highly respected classical performer, Sills inherently knew that very little could be gained if risks were not taken.  Tapping into her experience as the world’s most successful soprano, upon realizing she was facing the end of her singing career, Beverly Sills decided to apply what she had learned in the opera world and chose to garner the best possible advantages she could as both a business woman and charity spokesperson.

The New York City Opera

In 1980, Beverly Sills became the General Manager of the New York City Opera, a position that had never before been held by either a woman nor a singer. At that time, the company was financially struggling but by 1987 the NYCO was completely in the black mainly because of its leader’s expert abilities towards fundraising combined with her indomitable belief that not just opera,but allo f the fine arts should be made accessible to every American. Determined to remove the “high-brow” aspects to the Arts which many would find off-putting or intimidating, the woman whom they called “the People’s Diva” embarked on her journey to make the Arts a more approachable and enjoyable thing for the American public. She started by making the Arts an accessible thing, most especially through the medium of television. During her tenure, Beverly Sills popularized opera by appearing and singing on television shows which were the most watched at the time. With her charming wit and buoyant smile. Beverly Sills became a frequent guest on such televised shows as:the Merv Griffen Show, the Dinah Shore Show, the Carol Burnett Show the Mike Douglas Show the Dick Cavett Show, the David Frost Show, along with the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She also dispelled the stereotypes regarding the temperamentally volatile opera diva when she appeared on the popular children’s entertainment program “The Muppet Show“in 1979.

Beverly Sills sings a role she became well-known for, Violetta in Verdi’s” La Traviata” not before having a “high note” contest with Miss Piggy on” The Muppet Show”, June 28th, 1979

Along with introducing opera audiences to such innovative concepts as supertitles (the NYCO became the first opera house in the U.S. to use them) and sign language for the deaf, Beverly Sills also became the chairwoman for all of Lincoln Center as well as the President of the Metropolitan Opera from 2002-2005, Sills was a Board Member of the Met since 1991. She even had her own TV show in the late 1970’s which she hosted called “Lifestyles with Beverly Sills” for which she won an Emmy Award. Also during this time,Beverly Sills as a mother of two disabled children, was able to maintain focusing her energies on the charities close to her heart by serving as Chairwoman for The Multiple Sclerosis Society and National Chairwoman for The March of Dimes, an institution Sills was able to fundraise $80 million.

 Stating the young American classical singer was already one of the most versatile artists in the world from having to be well versed in foreign languages while still being musically competent, Beverly Sills made it her goal to promote American opera singers as well as to expose American opera audiences to new works written specifically by American composers.

Unbeknownst by many, Beverly Sills had a flower named in her honor -the Iridaceae Germanica, or the Beverly Sills Bearded Iris. The horticultural description of the flower befits the admirable traits of the remarkable woman it was named after. The iris is a hearty plant that’s known as a “rebloomer”, meaning it first emerges from the ground during the time of Beverly Sills’ birthday ,or late spring. and can ” rebloom” again in the Fall as when Beverly rechristened her reputation as a formidable business woman in her Autumn years following the triumphs she achieved as one of the world’s greatest coloratura sopranos. Described as “one tough plant” the iris grows tall under conditions most plants xouldn’t even survive. It comes in the form of a flower that is colored a uniquely delicate coral pink, and its coloring alone makes it one of the most sought after garden irises of all time. Enough said.

Beverly Sills died of lung cancer on July 2nd, 2007. She was 78 years old. Her legacy as one of the world’s greatest opera singers as well as one of the most effective of Arts Administrators remains well maintained.

The lovely Beverly Sills Iris

A Photographic Collection Commemorating the Life of Beverly Sills

The natal chart for Beverly Sills. Note the blue triangles or “grand trines“between the heavenly bodies of Neptune in the sign of Leo and Venus in the sign of Aries, along with Saturn and The Moon placed together in the sign of Sagittarius.

A drawing of Beverly Sills singing the title role in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” Because of her insistence that acting be married to the text, Sills’ “Mad Scene” is truly memorable and especially haunting.

A caricature of Beverly Sills by Al Hirschfeld displaying her beaming smile that was both effective and infectious.

A cover of Opera News Magazine showing Beverly Sills performing each of the 3 “Donizetti Queens” – Anna Bolena, or Ann Boleyn (left). Maria Stuarda or Mary Stewart (far right) and Queen Elizabrth I in “Roberto Deveraux” (center).

Beverly Sills’ 1976 autobiography with the title many called her by, “Bubbles”

The woman whom everyone called “Bubbles”

A drawing of the iridaceae germanica or Beverly Sills Iris

**Brad Kronen is the author of over 30 books on both Astrology and History, which includes his astrological dating guides tailor made for every sign of the Zodiac entitled “Love in the Stars”. In honor of Ms.Sills, below is an image of the Gemini edition, her Sun Sign, which is available for purchase on amazon.com. Click on the image below to see a complete listing of all Brad’s published work:

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