A Diva’s Life: Of High Notes And Low

Published November 24, 2006, issue of November 24, 2006.

At 77, opera legend Beverly Sills (née Bubbles Silverman) is still a dynamo with enormous energy. Her famous voice may not be heard much publicly anymore, but her legacy as both singer and opera house administrator (she has headed both the New York City Opera and the Met) is enormous. This week, she is the focus of the latest installment of PBS’s Great Performance series. The retrospective, titled “Beverly Sills: Made in America,” will premiere November 23. On the eve of its release, the Shmooze’s Ivor Davis caught up with the diva for a chat.

Q: Where did the name Bubbles come from?

A: I was born 10 3/4 pounds and with a big spit bubble in my mouth. My father said he had to pop it. Q: Can you talk about your early days?

A: I was a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn and came from a family that would not normally have been able to support a career like mine. In fact, they didn’t. They couldn’t.

Q: Why not?

A: I come from a European family where the boys are the focus. And if there was any money at all, and thank God for the GI Bill, it went to my brothers’ education and not mine. I barely got out of high school. I was on the road working and making money when I was 15.

Q: How did you feel when Rudolph Bing, the Metropolitan’s general manager, snidely said something like, “What is it about Bubbles Silverman from Brooklyn that made her think she can play an English queen?”

A: What is there about any of us that makes us think we can play an English queen? That’s all part of stage magic.

Q: Do you miss performing?

A: Not at all. I miss singing, of course. It was such a joyful thing, and to be so blessed to be able do that for a living, and a damn good living. So I was doubly blessed. I couldn’t wait to get on the stage to perform.

Q: Is this a good time in your life?

A: I’m quite content the way my life turned out, even though there were tremendous valleys. But there were also tremendous starry moments. It’s daunting to know that at some point in this TV program, you are going to be looking at a 30-year-old Beverly Sills. All the makeup and the pretty hairdos is not me anymore.

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