Music: Beverly Sills: The Fastest Voice Alive

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From New York, Julius Rudel tried to coax Beverly back to work with chatty "Dear Bubbela" letters. Finally he wrote more formally, pointing out that she still had a contract. "I told her to go back," says Peter. "I said it would be good therapy." Reluctantly, Beverly complied. Muffy was making progress anyway, learning to lip-read and talk. Bucky, however, was a hopeless case. When he was six, Beverly made the excruciating decision to put him in the same institution in Massachusetts where Peter's retarded daughter was already lodged. On the same day, she sang all three heroines in Puccini's trio of one-act operas, Il Trittico, at the City Opera. Says Director Frank Corsaro: "It was the only hysterical performance I have ever seen her give." Since then, says Rudel, "she has matured so greatly. While basically she has not changed, she has become much more profound. And yet, you always feel the joy of the performance."

The joy is always there with Beverly, whether of the performance or of some ordinary daily activity. "Hang-ups don't exist for my sister," says Brother Stanley, the publisher. "If there is a hangup, she'll solve it. That's the key to her. Today Beverly and Peter, who long ago gave up journalism to help with her career, have virtually resumed the normal, amiable chaos of their early life together. They have a nine-room apartment overlooking Manhattan's Central Park ("Isaac Stern always says he lives on top of Beverly Sills, because he's on a floor above us"). There they entertain (Peter is a graduate of the Cordon Bleu cooking school), play bridge (Peter is a tournament champion) or just relax (Beverly can do a crossword puzzle in 20 minutes, in ink).

If their relationship has been strained by the something that, in Beverly's words, "is basically troubled between us genetically," they do not show it. They still have their private jokes and rituals, such as when Peter kisses Beverly's cheek before she goes onstage and they both whisper their favorite good-luck word: "Merde." Beverly has learned to live with the occasional insinuations that Peter's wealth has floated her career. Once a music publication reported that Peter had bought Westminster Records so that Beverly could record anything she wanted. "I wrote a letter to the editor," she says, "and said it wasn't Westminster Records he bought, it was Westminster Abbey."

Sometimes, says Beverly, "you try to be all things to all people. Well, a great tragedy in your life makes you decide it's not so necessary to please everybody. Now I can afford to be selfish." An example of what she means by selfishness is deliberately raising her fees so high that, in some cases, engagements will fall through, leaving her free to be with her family.

Work to Be Done

At home, she and Peter try to bolster Muffy's self-confidence by sending her on errands to buy hard-to-pronounce items like toasted-almond ice cream. Beverly once arranged for Muffy to be in a procession of candle bearers during the death scene in Lucia. As Beverly lay "dead" in the scene, she found that her view was blocked by Raimondo, the chaplain. She stage-whispered: "Raimondo! Move your ass! I can't see Muffy!"

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