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Obituaries & Tributes Articles - Beverly Sills

The Shreveport Times, July7, 2007, by Alexandyr Kent

he death of Beverly Sills, one of opera's most beloved sopranos who performed several times in Shreveport, has touched a chord with local music-lovers. Sills, 78, died Monday in Manhattan of inoperable lung cancer. "Her whole mission was to get people from all walks of life to love opera," said Eric Dillner, general and artistic director of Shreveport Opera.

Sills built her storied career at New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera as both singer and, after retiring from the stage in 1980, an administrator. She appeared frequently on TV with Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett. Her tireless efforts brought opera to a larger American audience.

While Dillner was a singer at New York City Opera Sills was running the Lincoln Center. The stage felt different when Sills was in the house. "We had a lot of stars come and see our shows, but there was something really, really special about her," Dillner said. Was Dillner intimidated by her presence, regardless of her friendly reputation? "Absolutely."

For Shreveport Opera — then the Shreveport Civic Opera — she performed in "The Tales of Hoffman" (March 23, 1968) with Norman Treigle and Placido Domingo, "Lucia di Lammermoor" (March 24, 1970), "Daughter of the Regiment" (March 18, 1972) and "La Traviata" (May 7, 1974).

On April 12, 1980, Sills performed a farewell recital at Shreveport Civic Theater (now Riverview Theater), where all her local performances were staged.

O. Delton Harrison Jr., board member of Shreveport Opera and Metropolitan Opera, remembers dining with Sills at his home just hours before a performance.

During dinner, someone telephoned and left a message. "The maid come into the room and told me, 'I don't know whether to say this to her or not, but someone just told me to tell her to break a leg,'" Harrison recalled laughingly. "I said, 'You can tell her! She'd be happy to hear that.'" John Shenaut, music director emeritus of the Shreveport Symphony, said Sills recommended singers for Shreveport Civic Opera productions.

"It helped tremendously in establishing us as a repertory company," Shenaut said. "She was a wonderful person and a top singer." Charlton Lyons Jr., longtime actor and arts advocate, remembers hearing Sills perform with Treigle for "The Tales of Hoffman." "The made a terrific pair," Lyons said.

Her performance of "Les oiseaux dans la charmille," an aria, brought the house down. "It required all of the coloratura gymnastics, and she could do it all," Lyons said. "She was a tremendous person of the musical theater." Jasmine Egan, a Shreveport-based soprano who enjoyed a long career in opera, said Sills will be missed. "She was always smiling," Egan said. "We had a lot of mutual friends together, and we had a good time talking about how effervescent she was."

Sills' ebullience is symbolized by her nickname, Bubbles. Admirers often describe her as unfailingly nice and unpretentious. "She was never a prima donna in the sense we think of today," said Harrison, who remembers Sills as warm, charming and magnetic. "She was a diva, but it was just because of her talent."

Annually since 1979, the Shreveport Opera Guild has presented the Beverly Sills Service Award to someone who demonstrates outstanding dedication to the organization.