The early and the lucky thousands got to attend an eloquent, and entertaining, evening in honor of "Bubbles" (her nickname from childhood, and the title of her first autobiography), as thousands more listened live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius and in streaming audio at metopera.org.
Met general manager Peter Gelb — whom Sills recruited while she was the company's chairman — spoke in homage, as did New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Henry Kissinger. City Opera chair Susan Baker remembered Sills's warmth, when she was the boss, toward everyone in the company; former Lincoln Center president Nathan Leventhal provided a fine example of her wit and wisdom. Lincoln Center chairman Frank A. Bennack, Jr. made special mention of her crucial role in getting the complex's redevelopment venture ("our little home improvement job") started; he observed that the project, when complete, "will make Lincoln Center more like Beverly herself: accessible and open and welcoming to all!"
(We offer below some photos of the guests, along with choice bits of their remarks.)
Conductor and former City Opera general director Julius Rudel, one of Sills's closest musical collaborators during the peak of her singing career, said, "When I think of her, I think of her wit, her intelligence, her sparkle, and her musicianship. Every one of these qualities could be heard in her voice."
Her brother Stanley remembered how "through all the struggles, during all the tragedy, during all the triumphs, she never wavered"; fellow television stars and close friends Carol Burnett and Barbara Walters paid honor to her talent, resilience and good humor. They also pointed out that one of Sills's finest achievements was bringing up her daughter, Muffy Greenough — whose brief statement (read by Walters) said in part, "We laughed every day together. That's what I miss the most." (In honor of Ms. Greenough, who was born deaf, the entire event was translated into American Sign Language by an interpreter at one side of the Met stage.)
Reigning coloratura luminary Natalie Dessay sang in Sills's honor, as did young star Anna Netrebko and rising young bass John Relyea. Another operatic superstar, Plšcido Domingo, made a rare concert appearance, with no less than James Levine playing piano for him.
Naturally the evening included audio and video of Sills herself: her first film appearance, at age eight, singing an Italian aria in the movie Uncle Sol Solves It; her comic duet with Burnett, "Only an Octave Apart," from the 1976 television special Sills and Burnett at the Met; to close the evening, a farewell aria from Massenet's Manon, "Adieu, notre petite table" — the Met's auditorium resounding with the sound of Sills singing "Adieu" in the tribute's final moments.
As Mayor Bloomberg said, "Beverly will never be gone from us — no intermission, no curtain, no final bow."
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Except where otherwise noted, all photos by Ken Howard.