Biographical Books


Cover of the book BubblesBubbles
Macmillan, 1976, ISBN 0672522682, hardcover
Warner Books, 1977, ISBN 0446815209, softcover

Beverly ‘s autobiography, taking her life and career up through her debut at the Met in April 1975. Numerous photos, black and white as well as color, are placed throughout the 240 pages, which also include a useful index. There are no performance annals or discographies and Sills does not comment on many of her performances or recordings

Cover of book titled Beverly, an AutobiographyBeverly, An Autobiography
Bantam, 1987, ISBN 0553051733, hardcover
Bantam, 1988, ISBN 0553266470, softcover
Another life story by Sills covering much of the same ground as in Bubbles but with some different and additional stories. The book goes up through the first half of Sills’ tenure as head of the New York City Opera ending with the 1986 season. The book has a number of black and white photos, most of which are not in Bubbles. The 347 pages are well indexed but again no performance annals or discographies and many performances and recordings are not mentioned.

cover of book titled Bubbles, an EncoreBubbles, An Encore
Grosset & Dunlap, 1981, ISBN 0448120445, hardcover
Grosset & Dunlap, 1981, ISBN 044812037, softcover

This is a reprint of Bubbles, with an additional chapter of 40 pages appended at the end. Written by Harvey E. Phillips, the chapter covers the rest of Sills’ career through her retirement from singing. There are additional photos and there is a separate index for the new chapter.

Cover of book titled On My OwnOn My Own
Bantam Audio Publishing 1987, ISBN 0553457438, audiobook

Issued to complement Beverly, An Autobiography published in the same year, it is not a reading from her book, but an interview done exclusively for the audiobook. There is a narrator connecting the different sections of the interview and there are two live musical numbers: “Non disperar” from Handel” “Giulio Cesare” and the “Portuguese Folk Song” that her teacher, Estelle Liebling, prepared for Sills.

Recommended Biographical Resources

Picture of cover of book The American Opera Singer: the lives and adventures of America's great singers in opera and concert Davis, Peter G.
The American Opera Singer: the lives and adventures of America’s great singers in opera and concert from 1825 to the present
Doubleday, 1997, ISBN 0385474954, hardcover
Anchor Books, 1999, ISBN 0385421745, softcover

Peter G. Davis, the longtime music critic for New York Magazine, fills nearly 600 pages with an overview of the American opera singer, from opera’s arrival in America in the early 1800’s to the end of the 20th century. The majority of the book is Davis’s opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of a number of famous American singers, from Richard Tucker and Lawrence Tibbett to Eileen Farrell and Dorothy Kirsten. His strong opinions are often blunt and unflattering. Davis’s portrayal of Beverly Sills is especially harsh, characterizing her as an overly ambitious, calculating performer, who sang beyond her abilities and took on roles unsuited for her. Her biggest fans probably will not agree with a lot of what Davis writes, but it is a good springboard for discussion about her art and an intriguing alternative viewpoint.

Picture of book cover for The Magic of Beverly SillsGuy, Nancy
The Magic of Beverly Sills
University of Illinois Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-252-03973-7, hardcover

Not a biography but an overview of Sills’ art and popularity. The book contains material from interviews of Sills’ colleagues, family, friends and fans, all to get at what made Sills’ career such a success. There are chapters on her audio and video recordings and an in-depth analysis of her “Anna Bolena” from live recordings as an example of her attention to detail and characterization.

Picture of the cover of book Strange Child of Chaos: Norman TreigleMorgan, Brian
Strange Child of Chaos: Norman Treigle
iUniverse, 2006, ISBN 0595388981, softcover

The first biography of the bass-baritone who was often the partner in Beverly Sills’ greatest triumphs. The 300-page book includes many references to Sills within the main biographical text, as well as in the full set of annals of all Treigle’s performances, which include all his performances with Sills.

Picture of book cover for First and Lasting ImpressionsRudel, Julius and Paller, Rebecca
First and Lasting Impressions
Univ. of Rochester Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-58046-434-5, hardcover

Rudel conducted for the New York City Opera between 1944 and 1980 and was the company’s general director from 1957 to 1979. In this memoir, he devotes many pages to his long-term association with Sills and the company. There’s not much new information about Sills, but his insights on their many successful premieres, including “Giulio Cesare” and “Roberto Devereux,” make for fascinating reading.

Cover of The New York City Opera: the lives and adventures of America's great singers in opera and concert from 1825 to the presentSokol, Martin
New York City Opera: An American Adventure
Macmillan, 1981, ISBN 0026122804, hardcover

This 562-page book is a history of the New York City Opera, from its first performance on February 21, 1944 through its 1981 spring season. Within the narrative that makes up the first part, all of Sills’s major roles and performances are covered. The second part is a complete set of performance annals for NYCO in its New York appearances (no tour information is included).

Picture of cover of book The Music Went 'Round and AroundVacha, John
The Music Went ‘Round and Around
Kent State University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-87338-798-8, soft cover

The book is a history of Cleveland’s Musicarnival from its first summer season in 1954 to its last in 1975. There are eight pages of description of the five productions Beverly Sills sang there (Die Fledermaus in 1955, The Merry Widow and Carmen in 1956, Tosca in 1957 and The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1958). Also included are two photos of Sills (Carmen and Baby Doe) and a Cleveland Press drawing of her rehearsing Tosca.

Picture of cover of book Mad Scenes and Exit AriasWaleson, Heidi
Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America
Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2018, ISBN 9781627794978, hardcover
Picador, 2019, ISBN 9781250230720, softcover

Waleson’s well-researched, evenly-balanced history of the New York City Opera reveals the significance of Sills’ contributions as the reigning star of the company at the height of popularity and also as general director for the company after she retired from singing.

Interviews and Profiles

picture of book cover Portraits in PrintBenedict, Helen
Portraits in Print
Columbia Univ. Pr., 1991, ISBN 0231072260, hardcover
Columbia Univ. Pr., 1991, ISBN 0231072279, softcover

Experienced interviewer and journalist Helen Benedict profiles ten well-known figures in the arts (Beverly Sills, Susan Sontag, Joseph Brodsky, Paule Marshall, Bernard Malamud, Jessica Mitford, Robert Treuhaft, Leonard Michaels, Bertrand Bard, and Isaac Bashevis Singer), which were originally published in other newspapers and magazines. Benedict adds additional commentary before each profile and adds a postscript to each detailing how the interviews were arranged and any particularly interesting points about the interview itself.
The 14-page Sills profile, subtitled “Undaunted and Undefeated,” was done in 1985 and emphasizes her family life, both her mother’s influence while growing up and her attempts to have a “normal” family life with her husband and children, despite her career and the children’s disabilities.

Picture of book cover Sopranos Mezzos Basses and Other FriendsChapin, Schuyler
Sopranos, Mezzos, Tenors, Bassos, and Other Friends
Crown, 1995, ISBN 0517588641, hardcover

Chapin, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera House from 1972-1975, has written personal essays about 30 singers and musicians he has worked with and/or known. The essays are short (5 to 10 pages) and are only impressions, not full career overviews. Each is accompanied by unusually dramatic photos by James-Daniel Radiches. The Sills essay covers 8 pages and has two contrasting photos of her.

Picture of cover of book Singular Voices: Conversations with Americans who made a differenceDiamonstein, Barbaralee
Singular Voices: Conversations with Americans who made a difference
Harry N. Abrams, 1997, ISBN 0810926989, softcover

This 206-page book contains interviews with 17 leaders, pathfinders and prominent contributors to American life, who speak with candor about their professional and personal lives. Besides Beverly Sills, the list includes a wide range of personalities, such as Edward Albee, Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem and Elie Wiesel.

picture of cover for book Great Singers on Great SingingHines, Jerome
Great Singers on Great Singing
Doubleday,1982, ISBN 0385146388, hardcover
Limelight Editions, 1982, ISBN 0879100257, softcover

Operatic basso Jerome Hines interviews 40 famous singers and two doctors about the technique of singing. Chapters are from 5 to 10 pages long and often include printed lines of music for examples of exercises. The Sills chapter is 10 pages, in which she addresses breathing, chest voice, mask, and scales.

picture of cover of book ReverberationsJacobson, Robert
Morrow, 1974, ISBN 0688028756, hardcover
Vision Press, 1974, ISBN 0854784535, hardcover (UK)
Morrow, 1976, ISBN 0688078753, softcover

Robert Jacobson, former editor of Opera News, profiles 35 musicians active at the time of publication, including singers, pianists, and conductors. Profiles run 6 to 12 pages. The Sills interview (pp. 207-216) is a composite of two separate interviews, one from the winter of 1968 and one from early 1970, and goes into detail about the Giulio Cesare debut and the singing of all the Contes d’Hoffmann roles, as well as Callas’s influence on her.

picture of cover of book DivasSargeant, Winthrop
Coward, Mcann & Geoghegan, 1973, ISBN 0698104897, hardcover

Journalist Winthrop Sergeant interviews 6 world-renowned singers (Sutherland, Horne, Sills, Nilsson, Price and Farrell), giving overviews of their careers and personal insights into their talents. Each chapter is accompanied by 6-8 black and white photos. The 30-page Sills chapter recounts mostly routine facts and dates but does include some family anecdotes and some insights into Sills’s approach to characterization.

picture of cover of book Lead TimeWills, Garry
Lead Time: A Journalist’s Education
Doubleday, 1983, ISBN 0-385-17695-3, hard cover
Marriner, 2004, ISBN 0-618-44690-7, soft cover

A collection of essays by noted journalist Garry Wills. He devotes an 18-page chapter to Sills and her career, beginning with a backstage view of Sills in a performance of Anna Bolena.

picture of cover of book Wood, Silver and Gold: a flutist's lifeWion, John
Wood, Silver and Gold: a flutist’s life
JohnWion.Com/Lulu, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4303-2039-5

John Wion was the principle flutist for the New York City Opera orchestra from 1965 to 2002. His memoirs include references to Sills as performer and administrator throughout that period. He comments on specific Sills roles and includes anecdotes about her and her colleagues.

Recordings Commentary

Picture of book cover American Opera Singers and Their RecordingsMcCants, Clyde T.
American Opera Singers and Their Recordings
McFarland, 2004, ISBN 0786419520, softcover

McCants writes about the recordings of 53 singers. In Sills’ entry, he covers all of her commercially issued recordings, briefly analyzing what’s best about them while noting the changes in her voice over the 20-year span of recorded legacy.

Picture of book cover The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797-1847Riggs, Geoffrey
The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797-1847
McFarland & Company, 2003, ISBN 0-7864-1401-4, hardcover
ISBN 0786440775, softcover

Riggs, a writer for musical journals, magazines and newsletters, gives the history and characteristics of the bel canto style in opera, including examples from recordings. In more than 20 pages, the author provides detailed descriptions and analyses of the Sills recordings of Anna Bolena, Norma and Roberto Devereux.

Biographies for Young Readers

image of cover of Beverly Sills by Mona KerbyKerby, Mona
Beverly Sills: America’s Own Opera Star
Viking Kestrel, 1989, ISBN 0670822515, hardcover
MK Publications, 2017, revised ed., ISBN 9780999379042 or 9781734664362, softcover

The author used the two Sills autobiographies and 20 magazine articles to put together this brief overview of Sills’ life, totaling 56 pages. It emphasizes what Sills accomplished as an American woman, with special focus on her formative years. Although the book repeats some of the misremembered dates and performances Sills put in her books, it’s a good introduction to Sills’ art and popularity for elementary and middle school readers. The hardcover edition is illustrated with simple line drawings, but the revised softcover edition uses photographs, which gives a better feel for her personality.

image of cover of Beverly Sills: Opera SingerPaolucci, Bridgit
Beverly Sills: Opera Singer
Chelsea House Publishers, 1990, ISBN 1-55546-677-X, hardcover

Written for middle school and high school readers, this 112-page book is a compact biography of Sills, taken mostly from Sills’ autobiographies, but also magazine and newspaper articles, as well as interviews with the author. There are a number of good black and white photos of Sills in costume and with family members. As with the Kerby biography, this book repeats some dates and events misremembered by Sills in her own books, but this more substantial biography is also a good introduction to Sills’ life and career.