5 Essential Beverly Sills Recordings

By Francisco Salazar

Beverly Sills was one of the greatest sopranos of her time and she became an American icon, not only for her singing but also for her outreach and her work promoting young and upcoming singers.

Throughout her career she sang at the greatest theaters and performed a wide array of repertoire. She also left a number of important and historic recordings.

Here are five essential recordings we believe you should listen to as we celebrate Sills’ birthday on May 25.

The Three Queens

Sills was one of the first sopranos to introduce Donizetti’s Three Queens to modern audiences and she is still one of the few artists to have recorded all three. She was the first to perform all three queens in New York and give each one a distinctive characteristic.

Her Elisabetta in “Roberto Devereux” is distinct for her vulnerability, while her Anna Bolena is sung with dignity and power. Her Maria Stuarda is a combination of gorgeous phrasing with virtuoso power.

For audiences are discovering these for the first time, this is the place to start as they are complete recordings with no cuts. The recording are also splendid in that they feature the likes of Eileen Farrell, Shirley Verrett, and Stuart Burrows.

The Ballad of Baby Doe

Sills made the aria “Willow” from Douglas Moore’s opera an iconic piece in the repertoire. This recording from 1955 is among her first and one that features the soprano at the peak of her talents voice. This recording is a treasure for anyone who loves American opera, with the work remaining somewhat of an outlier of the standard repertory. Sills is accompanied by Julius Rudel who conducts the New York City Opera.

Giulio Cesare

In 1966, Beverly Sills came to stardom when she revived Handel’s then-“unknown” work with the New York City Opera. She became a sensation and would become known as the People’s Diva. So it wasn’t to anyone’s surprise that Sills recorded her iconic turn of Cleopatra for RCA Victor with Norman Treigle, who was also in that historic performance. The recording is made with Julius Rudel and the New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus and is among Sills’ most thrilling roles.

L’Assedio Di Corinto

Sills made her Metropolitan Opera debut in this rarely performed Rossini opera. She was a great advocate for the work and also performed it to great acclaim at the Teatro alla Scala. In this 1975 recording with Thomas Schippers, Sills shows vocal fireworks and agility in her coloratura roulades. Even if her high notes were no longer as potent as they were earlier in her career, her interpretation is unique. The recording also features Shirley Verrett and Justino Diaz.

The Tales of Hoffmann

Few sopranos have performed all three heroines in Offenbach’s masterful work. In this recording with Julius Rudel, Sills sings the three heroines bringing vocal fireworks to Olympia, lyrical intensity as Antonia, and a seductive timbre as Giuletta. The recording features Norman Treigle as the villains, Stuart Burrows in the title role, Nico Castel, and Susanne Marsee as the Muse.


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