Beverly Sills, Star Soprano and Met Chairman Emerita, Dies at Age 78
Company mourns one of its greatest singers and staunchest supporters
July 3, 2007
New York, NY (July 3, 2007) — Beverly Sills, one of the great sopranos of the late twentieth century as well as one of the most prominent administrators and fundraisers in the history of opera in America, died yesterday at age 78. At the time of her death, she was Chairman Emerita of the Metropolitan Opera’s Board of Directors.
Christine Hunter, Chairman of the Board of the Met said, “The Met benefited enormously from Beverly Sills's sage counsel, her knowledge of the inner workings of opera, and her great good humor. She will be greatly missed, both as a dear personal friend and as an unbelievable benefactress of the arts.”
William Morris, President and CEO of the Met, said, “Beverly Sills provided great leadership and common sense at a critical time in the Met’s history. We shall all deeply miss her continued steady presence.”
Peter Gelb, Met General Manager, said, “Beverly Sills was one of the greatest popularizers of opera in recent history, first as an artist and later as a cultural leader. Opera has lost its biggest booster and friend.”
Met Music Director James Levine said, “Beverly was an extraordinary artist, a gifted administrator, and a magnificent human being. In every facet of her career, she had a mission — to bring the joy and love of our great art form to as many people as possible. It was my privilege to work with Beverly frequently, and I will miss her enormously. She is simply irreplaceable.”
Ms. Sills made a sensational Met debut as Pamira in the United States premiere of Rossini’s L’Assedio di Corinto on April 7, 1975. Already an internationally recognized star and an operatic icon in America, she was showered with critical praise and public adoration. She went on to sing four more roles with the Met: the title roles in Verdi’s La Traviata, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and Massenet’s Thaïs, and Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, the latter two in new productions mounted especially for her. Her final Met performance was on May 21, 1979, when she sang Norina on the Met tour in Detroit, Michigan.
As acclaimed as she was as a singer, Ms. Sills was perhaps even more influential as a powerful advocate for the arts, in particular opera. An enormously popular media personality in America, she lent her fame, energy, and business acumen to promote the cause of opera following her retirement as a singer. She served as General Director of the New York City Opera and as Chairman of Lincoln Center and joined the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera as a Managing Director in 1991. In 2002, she became Chairman of the Board of the Met, where she tirelessly employed her extraordinary talents for fundraising to garner support for the company in the difficult times following September 11, 2001. Among her many accomplishments, she launched the “Save the Met Broadcasts” Campaign when the Met’s landmark Saturday afternoon radio broadcast series lost its long-time corporate sponsor. She was also a member of the Board’s search committee which selected Peter Gelb as General Manager in the fall of 2004. She resigned as Chairman in January, 2005, to devote herself to personal family matters, and became Chairman Emerita. Ms. Sills continued generously to give her time to fundraising and publicity efforts by the Met, including hosting live intermission features for the new HD transmissions during the 2006-07 season.
Her memory will continue to be served at the Metropolitan Opera by the annual Beverly Sills Artist Award, given to a young singer on the Met roster for the purpose of artistic career development. The annual award of $50,000 is funded by an endowment gift from Agnes Varis, a Managing Director on the Met Board, and her husband Karl Leichtman, in tribute to Ms. Sills’s many accomplishments in the arts.