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If you were an American female voice student in the 70's, you knew who "Bubbles" was. She wasn't some skinny Italian bitch with a big nose and a voice from heaven; she wasn't a solemn tank of a woman who made Verdi sound like the wrath of God and love like sublime agony. She wasn't some flat-faced Brit with trills that made birds weep with envy.

She was a NY girl with a hearty laugh, sparkling eyes, a decent figure, and champagne in her voice--when it wasn't good ole beer and hotdogs.

I heard her sing in person once. We went to a recital--I don't remember if it was Erie, Buffalo, or Toronto. She sang like an angel--voice dancing where it should dance, weeping where it should weep. She flashed us all with her bright smile, and even waved to the group of students in the balcony. At the end of the concert, when we were screaming for an encore, she came to the front of the stage, and motioned for us to sit down.

We did. Then, in a hoarse, rasping voice, so unlike the speaking voice we knew almost as well as the singing one, she told us she had severe laryngitis, and she hoped we would understand if she did not sing an encore for us. After a moment of stunned silence the house was on its feet, clapping and yelling "Get well soon, Bubbles!" "Feel better, Miss Sills!" "We love you!"

She flashed that smile one last time, bowed with an expression of gratitude, and swirled towards the wings with a wave of skirt to make the Merry Widow proud.

Some people would say she should have sung the encore, and left us unknowing she was ill. I found out later that she did what she did for the students--as an object lesson of what is possible, and necessary, for a real performer. And that's the lesson I took away, and my teachers always emphasized: a singer can sing with laryngitis--as long as your lungs are healthy, you can sing.

"Bubbles," Beverly Sills, died of lung cancer yesterday at 78.

My favorite soprano, whose best roles are the part the repetoire I enjoy least. She is my favorite the way tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches are my favorite winter food; the way a plaid flannel shirt, sweats, and thick warm socks are my favorite thing to wear.

Tonight, I shall listen to Lehar, and think of the sparkling redhead from Brooklyn. In my mind I will watch a bright shining bubble rise on a pure glissando of soprano song.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 3rd, 2007 08:43 am (UTC)
And she had a child who was deaf. That always amazed me. She was truly an inspiration to me, not only as a singer but as a person. She made it OK to be a Diva, and a nice person.
Jul. 3rd, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
My heart sank when I heard this morning. She made opera approachable. She had a sense of humor and was smart enough to do low-brow TV talk shows so she could teach the American public that opera could be American, too. I was never much of an opera fan, but I wept a little for her. What a great, great woman.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )