This collection, a tribute to Sills' collaborative spirit, brings together scenes from complete opera recordings that had come about as a result of productions at the New York City Opera, as well as six previously unreleased performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The operas represent her recorded works, including selections from the French romantic, Italian bel canto, and contemporary American repertoire.
The performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center make this an important addition even to the collections of the confirmed Sills fans who may already own the operas from which these scenes are taken. This is not repertoire for which Sills is well known, and her concert performances of these songs and arias are a real discovery; she brings to these works the same unerring sense of drama for which she was known on-stage. Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, with Gervase de Peyer on clarinet and Charles Wadsworth on piano, emerges as a poignant monodrama, and Sills gives Adolphe Adam's extravagantly florid Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, with Paula Robison on flute and Charles Wadsworth on piano, a characterization of warmth and passion.
This CD is a fine introduction to Sills' work. As a performer who thrived on the collaborative process, and who was known for her artistic generosity, she is heard to excellent advantage in these ensembles. The characteristics that made her beloved are all in evidence here -- the distinctive creaminess of her timbre, her flawless intonation and rock-solid technique, but above all her ability to fully inhabit characters and invest them with real vulnerability and humanity. This is essentially a best-of compilation, and every selection of the highest standard. The Lucia Sextet, conducted by Julius Rudel, her frequent collaborator at the New York City Opera, is notable for its dramatic immediacy and for the excellent balance that allows the individual voices to emerge with clarity and urgency. Of special note are Sills' performances with other legendary sopranos; in the title role in Maria Stuarda, she joins with Eileen Farrell as Elizabeth, and as Anna Bolena, with Shirley Verrett as Jane Seymour. The synergy of these performers creates the kind of sizzling intensity that marks the most memorable operatic experiences.