The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Remembering Two Great Queens:
Bevery Sills and Charles Nelson Reilly

Almost exactly 20 years ago to the day—on July 18, 1987—I went to the opera for the first time. Grandma Hirsch took me to the New York City Opera to see La Bohème. As always, Grandma struck up conversations with everyone around us, and one of them pointed out another member of the audience: Beverly Sills.

At my Grandma’s prodding, I went over to say hello. In my nervousness I called her “Miss Mills”, but clearly she didn’t mind because she was very sweet to me and autographed my program:

On July 2, “Bubbles” died from lung cancer at the age of 78. From humble beginnings as the daughter of Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, Sills rose to become one of the most famous American sopranos of the 20th Century, renowned for her coloratura technique and stage presence. She also made it her personal mission to make opera more accessible to the masses, appearing with Johnny Carson (for whom she was also a guest host), Carol Burnett, and even the Muppets. She retired from singing in 1980, fairly early in her career (“I’d rather retire now when people say ‘please don’t go!’ than wait until they’re saying ‘it’s about time!’”), only to lead the New York City Opera away from the brink of collapse and become chairwoman of Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Opera.

Despite personal tragedies—ironically both of her children were born deaf and would never hear her sing, and her son was also born with severe autism—she was known for her wit and humor as the unchallenged First Lady of American Opera. She was also major supporter of the March of Dimes in their fight against birth defects.

On a serious note (ha!) you can click here to listen to (or download) her singing an excerpt from Cleopatra’s tragic aria "Se pietà di me non senti" from Handel’s Giulio Cesare—the role that made her an overnight sensation in 1966.

For a more upbeat moment (ha again!), here’s a scene from The Muppet Show where she performs (or at least tries to) with a bunch of pigs. To add to the entertainment value, this was apparently uploaded from Italian television so Kermit’s introduction is dubbed in Italian! Just click the little triangle in the lower left-hand corner to play:

Finally, you can click here to watch her farewell and final number from her final performance, courtesy of YouTube.

No less a loss to the arts in America is the recent passing of Charles Nelson Reilly:

Okay, maybe you can’t put them in exactly the same category, but he was matchless on The Match Game and we will miss his ascots, oversize spectacles, and over-the-top penchant for double-entendres. Click here to see him in action!!

Aleha hashalom, alav hashalom.


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