Saturday, July 07, 2007

Remembering Beverly Sills

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice tribute about Beverly Sills in their print edition and online. The writer, Joshua Kosman, observed that Ms. Sills made opera "American," making it seem less a fussy European experience and something that an average person could enjoy. She did this by essentially remaining the "girl from Brooklyn" that she was born.

I remember reading about Ms. Sills in that most American of publications, Reader's Digest. She learned to sing opera by listening to her parents records over and over, then singing what she heard. This meant, of course, when she started training, she had to unlearn all her mispronunciations. And she was a redhead by accident--when she was young, the hairdresser mixed the proportions of red and blonde hair dye. Instead of being a golden or a strawberry blonde as originally intended, Ms. Sills became a redhead. She liked it so much, she kept it.

My favorite memory, though, is Ms. Sills' appearance on The Muppet Show. This must have been in the mid-80's, right about the time she retired from singing. Sam Eagle was quite pompously happy that the show was finally going to get some culture and fawned all over Ms. Sills. She, however, had other ideas about what she was going to do. Dressed in a lovely, flowing evening gown she... tap-danced. And she wore patent-leather tap shoes with the big organza bows, similar to the kind Shirley Temple wore as a girl. Sam was appalled, but the rest of the cast was thrilled. In fact, she might have danced with Harry Monster.

(I loved The Muppet Show, especially for these moments when the guest stars got to do something completely unexpected. Rudolf Nureyev also tap-danced on the show.)

Sadly, the world is a little bleaker. Not only did we lose a talented diva, in the truest sense of the word, but we also lost someone who knew how to poke fun at their image. And how to laugh!