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CLASSICAL  July 2007

CLASSICAL July 2007

Subject:

Sills - Nothing Like Her, Literally

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 8 Jul 2007 17:37:57 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (102 lines)

She was, mostly likely, "the last opera star you saw on TV," writes Steve
Metcalf about Beverly Sills, and there lies sadness beyond the individual
loss of a great artist.

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/commentary/hc-commentarysills0708.artjul08,0,4194618.story

   The Last Opera Star You Saw On TV
   By STEVE METCALF / The Hartford Courant
   
   Whenever somebody important in the arts dies, especially someone
   I've personally admired, I tend to melodramatically think about
   how that person will be irreplaceable.
   
   The death of Beverly Sills, who succumbed to lung cancer a few
   days ago at 78, got me thinking about the irreplaceableness of
   an entire category: the serious artist who is also a popular
   hero.
   
   "Hero" is the right word, I think. Millions of ordinary people
   in this country and around the world revered Beverly Sills, not
   because they had necessarily ever seen her complex and poignant
   portrayal of the title character in "The Ballad of Baby Doe,"
   or heard her spectacular vocal agility in Rossini's "The Siege
   of Corinth." Rather, they admired this woman because she was a
   genial, charming and passionate advocate for music and the arts,
   and because she made the arts seem human and approachable.
   
   Crucially, though, Sills was only able to make an impression in
   the wider culture because she was permitted a regular and ongoing
   place within it.
   
   She turned up with some frequency on "The Tonight Show" with
   Johnny Carson, reportedly because Carson genuinely liked her and
   thought it was important, at least occasionally, to have people
   from the arts world on his show. In fact, although I had forgotten
   this until I read it a few days ago, she actually guest-hosted
   the show a few times, again with Johnny's blessing.
   
   She also appeared on "The Muppet Show," on variety shows and
   random talk shows, and on several network specials hosted by her
   friend Carol Burnett.
   
   But we're talking years ago.
   
   I can't remember the last time a serious musician showed up on
   a network show, unless you count the occasional cute-as-a-button
   kid prodigy trotted out for novelty value, always performing
   something very short and with a lot of sixteenth notes. How about
   that, ladies and gentlemen?  Can you believe she plays so well
   and she's only 7 years old!
   
   Even at the annual Grammy Awards, ostensibly devoted to celebrating
   the variety of our musical culture, classical music, like jazz,
   is all but invisible, usually relegated to the yawn-inducing "in
   ceremonies held earlier" portion of the show, which is the portion
   during which most viewers sensibly run to the kitchen for a fresh
   brewski.
   
   The press, in turn, is less and less interested in covering
   anything that hasn't been pre-certified by television. Except,
   strangely, to call attention to its own indifference: There have
   been several widely circulated stories recently about the many
   newspapers (and in all honesty, this newspaper is one of them)
   that have reduced or eliminated their coverage of the serious
   arts, particularly music.
   
   This is an issue that has been years in the making, of course,
   but with Sills' passing, the landscape looks suddenly and
   unexpectedly barren.  Her successor, at least in her role as
   arts cheerleader-in-chief, is not even remotely in view.
   
   We could use the help.  How many of us can name a single living
   American opera singer?  How about a living American classical
   instrumentalist?  Don't be embarrassed - a few months ago, The
   Washington Post, as an experiment, deployed Joshua Bell, one of
   the most celebrated violinists on the planet, to stand in a
   subway station and play to passers-by.  In almost an hour, more
   than a thousand people hustled by, of whom a grand total of one
   recognized him.
   
   Sills has been rightly hailed, in the past few days, as someone
   who preached and embodied a single message: that the arts are
   essential, and that they belong in the life of every human being.
   
   But if our vast news and entertainment machine is no longer
   interested in conveying that message, then perhaps it will turn
   out that Beverly Sills was, though not exactly in the way she
   would have wanted, irreplaceable indeed.
   
   /Steve Metcalf, who was The Courant's music critic from 1982 to
   2001, is director of instrumental studies at The Hartt School
   at the University of Hartford./

Janos Gereben/SF
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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