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Defending 'Beverly'

August 02, 1987

I hope you'll allow me to respond to the three most churlish judgments made by Richard Dyer of my work with Beverly Sills in "Beverly: An Autobiography" (The Book Review, July 12).

1--As amply reported in the book, before Sills became an overnight sensation at the tender age of 37, she'd spent 20 years singing in such venues as the Catskill Mountains, New England music camps, cruise ships, a private after-hours club in Manhattan, Midwestern high school gyms and auditoriums, and several regional opera companies. Dyer claims I failed to question Sills "closely about the circumstances and compromises of American musical life." Perhaps he would have preferred an academic discussion of that subject, but I didn't, and neither did Sills.

2--Dyer says "Linderman has not pushed Sills beyond anecdotes and easy generalities when it comes to the artistic questions" inherent in her profession. In view of the gut assessments Sills makes of her own work, as well as of the work of virtually every other opera star of her time (plus various directors, conductors, composers, impresarios and even set and costume designers) it's not surprising that he didn't try to substantiate that charge.

3--Dyer's strongest criticism is that I did "absolutely nothing to protect Sills from her less-attractive impulses and traits of character." He complains that instead of "the familiar fun-loving big-hearted Sills"--a woman whom Dyer, incidentally, has consistently attacked over the years--" 'Beverly' turns querulous, defensive and even nasty." That's a pejorative way of saying Sills hasn't pulled her punches in this book. Because Sills has openly questioned their qualifications, "Beverly" has drawn the wrath of opera critics. In fact, the only negative reviews of this book have been written by opera critics. Except for the worry that it might deter people from reading "Beverly," I take that as a compliment.

LAWRENCE LINDERMAN

Sonoma, Calif.

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