With favorable reviews after her transition to classical opera, Sills’ performed in urban opera houses throughout the United States. She became a well known coloratura soprano who possessed a superb voice and a light, agile manner around the stage. In 1966, her performance as Cleopatra in New York City Opera’s revival of Handel’s Giulio Cesare garnered her international attention. Her 1969 role as Pamira in Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth at the world renowned La Scala opera house in Milan brought her world renown and landed her on the cover of Newsweek. A few weeks later Beverly Sills made her first and only appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Ed Sullivan made a point of including great moments in opera among the rock ‘n roll, comedy and novelty acts. He knew that Americans in smaller towns would never have a chance to see the likes of Rudolf Nureyev or Joan Sutherland performing live. For Sills, it “was staggering” that in one appearance on Sullivan “more people would hear you sing than heard Caruso in his whole lifetime.”
On May 4, 1969, Ed Sullivan introduced Sills commenting, “You have heard many great voices on our stage and here is one of the greatest.” Sills took the stage to perform the aria “O luce di quest’ anima” (Oh! star that guid’st my fervent love) from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix. Sills performed the opera’s opening aria backed by The Ed Sullivan Orchestra on an extravagant set including floor to ceiling columns and hanging drapery. Bubbles’ voice was crystal clear and strong as she reached high octaves and made beautiful runs and leaps. That evening, Ed Sullivan’s introductory comments once again proved accurate and it was clear to see why this talented woman from Brooklyn was one of the most sought after artists in the world’s greatest opera houses.
Beverly Sills’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is an unforgettable moment in music history. Two years later, she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine described as “America’s Queen of Opera.” Lauded as one of the greatest opera singers of all-time, Sills chose to retire in 1980. She then began serving as chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. During her lifetime, she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honor, an Emmy, a Grammy and four honorary Doctorates. Beverly Sills died at the age of 78 in 2007.