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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.