Music: Beverly Sills: The Fastest Voice Alive

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This month alone, she has already performed a trilogy of operatic queens at the New York City Opera that amply confirms her own regal gifts: Elizabeth I in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux (see cover), Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov's Le Coq d'Or and Cleopatra in Julius Caesar. Starting this week she and the New York City Opera will recreate all three during a three-week guest stand in Los Angeles (planned for next spring is a new production by Beverly and the company of another Donizetti queen, Maria Stuarda). Early next month, she will give two performances of Lucia di Lammermoor in New Orleans, then fly to Israel for a month-long concert tour. After that, her appointment book lists dates as far ahead as 1975.

Has Beverly Sills left Bubbles Silverman behind? Far from it. What might be called the Bubbles dimension in Beverly Sills is the leaven that, added to her enormous talents, makes her the extraordinary personality and professional that she is. It keeps her the least pretentious of prima donnas—earthy, quick-witted, a little bit kooky. It gives her a natural, womanly radiance that suffuses any room or opera house she is in.

Moreover, it generates a zest and determination in the face of suffering, and she has known deep suffering. Her generous, open nature is also a vulnerable one; she has had to learn to steel it with stoicism. "People plan and God laughs," she says. But she laughs too—a billowing, enfolding laugh that is all the more warming because it is born not of frivolity but of grit.

Beverly habitually arrives at rehearsals with her part fully memorized, her score shut and her mind open. "I can ask her to try anything onstage," marvels Tito Capobianco, who has directed most of her successes at City Opera and whom Beverly regards as "her" director. She mugs, sings lying down, and once, in Buenos Aires, even danced the tango with six Argentine stagehands. All in the cause of easing tensions and clearing the way for creative work. "Beverly, was that an F and G in your part?" Conductor Aldo Ceccato once asked during a snarl-up in a recording session. "It could have been a K and L, the way I sang it," she replied.

When she is not singing, she is talking. Speech, no less than song, pours out of her with the impetus of a natural force—gossip and insights, shopping lists and philosophy, sly jokes and probing questions. Once, her physician told her that she needed a tetanus shot. "What will happen if I don't take it?" she asked. "You might not be able to talk for a few days," he said. "Quick," she cried, "give me the shot!"

Never one for warming up before performances ("I don't want to leave the best part of me back in the dressing room"), Beverly has no fussy regimen for protecting her voice. The mere sight of her casually munching an apple between entrances would be enough to give most sopranos throat constriction for days. Stage fright is unknown to her; well-wishers, including many young people, throng her dressing room before as well as after a performance, and a relaxed Beverly makes small talk and long-distance phone calls right up until curtain time. "She has a completely unusual degree of security and professionalism," says Conductor Erich Leinsdorf.

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