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Obituaries & Tributes Articles - Beverly Sills

Brooklyn Eagle , July 2007 by Staff Writer

ete Spanakos, Sea Gate civic leader and former Golden Gloves boxing champ during the 1950s and early ’60s, still has the piano that opera star Beverly Sills, originally Bubbles Silverman from Brooklyn, once practiced on.

He bought it in the early 1980s from the estate of one Dr. Radetsky, whom he didn’t know — a Sea Gate physician whose house resembled Manhattan’s 42nd Street Library.

“It is a Harrington baby grand made by Hartman and Peck,” said Spanakos. “Mrs. Rudetsky grew up with ‘Bubbles’ when the singer was living in Sea Gate and going to Erasmus High School, probably in the 1940s. Beverly used to come over to play her piano, and the two of them remained friendly for many years, even after Beverly quit singing,” says Spanakos.

As for the piano’s current use, “When my kids were young, they trained on it,” says Spanakos, a retired school guidance counselor. “Now, it just sits there, except when my son Anthony [a professor of political science] comes over and plays it.”

In remembering Beverly Sills, Henry Kissinger didn’t think about her singing— he never heard her perform.Their birthdays were two days apart — Sills on May 25, Kissinger on May 27 — and they celebrated some years with joint parties. Kissinger visited her Friday, just before she left a hospital and returned home for the final time.

“She gave me many of the records which she recorded, and I listened to those,” the former secretary of state said Tuesday, a day after the celebrated soprano died of lung cancer at age 78. “She was a woman of tremendous human intuition and tremendous compassion for others. She had a marvelous understanding of people.”

Sills never faded after she retired from singing in 1980 at 51. She handled CEOs and politicians as deftly as Donizetti’s high notes, as smoothly as she soothed sopranos and tenors.

“New York, the nation, and the world have lost a leading light and a melodic voice,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Bubbles, as she was known throughout her life, spent 10 years as general director of the New York City Opera, then served as chairwoman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and later as chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera. She became a leading figure on the American cultural scene, hosting TV broadcasts and raising millions of dollars with just a few phone calls.

Sills took on the coloratura repertoire at a time when it was out of favor, shunned by Rudolf Bing’s Met, where Verdi, Wagner and Puccini reigned. She became famous at the smaller City Opera, triumphing in Bellini, Rossini, Handel and Massenet.

And, with guest-hosting stints on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and TV appearances with Carol Burnett, she became the one American opera singer known by the masses.

“I lost one of my best friends ever, and I’m devastated,” Burnett said.

Julius Rudel, then City Opera’s music administrator, first heard Sills in the early 1950s at the recommendation of her teacher, Estelle Liebling. Sills had to make several auditions before she was hired by the company, then headed by conductor Joseph Rosenstock.

“He was a little concerned about how tall she was,” Rudel recalled. “She said, ‘I’m happy to come back, but I’m not going to shrink.’”

Sills, about 5-foot-6 according to manager Edgar Vincent, became a giant in the bel canto world, helping revive works that had gone out of fashion, such as Donizetti’s three operas about Tudor queens — which still have never been staged by the Met. Placido Domingo, who starred opposite Sills at City Opera, remembered “beautiful times of bubbling, giggling” nights spent on trips to Los Angeles, Mexico, Peru and other places.

In recent years, she gave the tenor advice on his jobs running the Los Angeles and Washington Operas. He was surprised by the speed of her decline in recent weeks. “We had been planning a dinner for the last year and a half,” he said by phone from Madrid, Spain. “We seem to always meet on opening nights with a 1,000 people there. We missed that dinner.” At City Opera and then the Met, Sills influenced a generation of singers — the Met even established an award in her name in 2005.