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Beverly Sills: Made in America banner
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To be sure, Sills, like many singers before her and since, experienced a loss of vocal quality over the years, but she hardly became a worthless warbler. (To carp about her occasionally harsh or strident notes just doesn't cut it, not when we cherish so many harsh and strident ones from Callas.) What counts is that Sills gave generously of her vocal gifts, maybe too generously. She poured her voice into a role, come hell or high C, a trait she shared with the greatest of the operatic great.

Fortunately, the soprano left a good deal of documentation behind when she retired from the stage in 1980. Although some of her commercial recordings were made after her absolute peak years, that still leaves plenty of vocal brilliance and interpretive insights to savor and treasure. For anyone seeking an introduction to her work or to enlarge an existing collection of her recordings, here are some choices that bubble over (so to speak) with the Sills magic.


THE ART OF BEVERLY SILLS (Deutsche Grammophon, double CD)
This must-have cross-section of the Sills discography includes two of her most sublime performances: The seductive "Im chambre séparée" from Heuberger's operetta "Der Opernball" and the haunting "Marietta's Lied" from Korngold's opera "Die tote Stadt." Both bring out the silvery gleam of the soprano's voice, and both are exquisitely sculpted at luxuriously expansive tempos that allow the melodic richness of these arias to sink in all the more tellingly. It's hard to imagine either piece ever being sung more beautifully.

Another highlight among many in the compilation is the meltingly phrased "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" from Mozart's "Zaide." The set also offers examples of Sills putting the "bel" into "bel canto" in brilliantly ornamented arias from Donizetti's regal trilogy, "Maria Stuarda," "Anna Bolena," and "Roberto Devereux." Note how nimbly and infectiously the voice dances through the bouncy tune of "O luce di quest'anima" from the same composer's "Linda di Chamounix."

This generous collection captures Sills live in opera and concert, mostly from her finest New York City Opera performances. She delivers sensational coloratura feats in a Thomas Arne showpiece and extensive excerpts from Handel's "Semele" and Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia." The set includes some highly expressive Mozart arias and a rare example of Sills singing music from Verdi's "Ernani." There's also a witty novelty, "Sillsiana," the ultimate coloratura encore, constructed for her out of untold bits and pieces of the operatic repertoire by her longtime collaborator Roland Gagnon. Sills gives it a thoroughly virtuosic, just plain fun performance.

Top banner photos: Beverly Sills in ''The Merry Widow,'' ''Manon'' (© Metropolitan Opera Guild, photo by William Harris), and ''Roberto Devereux.''

Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW.

Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills

Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills

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The DVD is available.

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