Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Remembering a great American on the 4th

Happy Independence Day! I hold the following truths about Beverly Sills to be self-evident. I was so sorry to hear of her passing, because she made high culture so much fun and so accessible for ordinary mortals, and did it so cheerfully and enthusiastically. Verlyn Klinkenborg of the New York Times remembered her in a particularly American way, managing to weave baseball, art and corporatism/administration in a fine appreciation of the late singer. His tribute reads, in part,

"Whenever I think of Beverly Sills, who died Monday at 78, I find myself imagining a baseball player — New York-born, raised on the sandlots, rising through the big leagues, M.V.P., Cy Young award — who then went on to become the commissioner. I don’t think Ms. Sills ever played much baseball, but I stand by the analogy.

She had that kind of popular hometown importance to her sport, which was opera. For many years, her singing career seemed to illustrate the tensions between the American League of opera — that is, the New York City Opera, where she got her start — and the National League — the Metropolitan Opera. And when she stopped singing, she took over the whole shebang and made Lincoln Center her enterprise.

The force of Ms. Sills’s personality, the extraordinary quality of her voice, the powerful dramatic presence she created on a stage and the ease with which she occupied her many public roles made her seem somehow inevitable. But there is nothing inevitable about someone who excelled at the highest level of her art and was able, at the same time, to make audiences unfamiliar with opera feel as though they had access to it through her. She represented her art as though she had been elected to the task, and she took the job of representing it seriously. Just how seriously became apparent when she became chairwoman of Lincoln Center."

What could be more appropriate on the day the nation was born than to celebrate the life of one of its most distinguished and accomplished citizens?

1 comment:

Buttermilk Sky said...

I don't think Beverly Sills played baseball, but she was a fan: she once said she liked to check out the stage before a performance just as Ted Williams would inspect the outfield before a game. I was lucky enough to hear her many times, and I enjoyed your post.