Soprano Susanna Phillips has been named the recipient of the fifth annual Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera. The $50,000 award, the largest of its kind in the United States, is designated for extraordinarily gifted singers between the ages of 25 and 40 who have already appeared in featured solo roles at the Met. The award, in honor of Beverly Sills, was established in 2006 by an endowment gift from Agnes Varis, a managing director on the Met board, and her husband, Karl Leichtman. Phillips was presented with the award at the Met today by Dr. Varis and Muffy Greenough, daughter of Beverly Sills.
The Sills Award was created to help further recipients’ careers, including funding for voice lessons, vocal coaching, language lessons, related travel costs, and other professional assistance. Sills, who died on July 2, 2007, was well known as a supporter and friend to developing young artists, and this award continues her legacy as an advocate for rising singers. The 28-year-old Phillips is the fifth recipient of the award, following baritone Nathan Gunn in 2006, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in 2007, tenor Matthew Polenzani in 2008, and bass John Relyea in 2009.
“What an immense honor it is to receive this award, especially one given in the name of Beverly Sills,” said Susanna Phillips. “Hers was the first soprano voice I remember hearing in our home in Huntsville, Alabama, and her recordings were a tremendous influence on my musical life. When I think of La Traviata, it’s her Violetta in my ears, and Welcome to Vienna is an all time favorite. I never had the privilege of seeing Beverly Sills perform live, however I did bump into her once – literally. I was in New York when she was on the board of Lincoln Center, where we collided in an elevator. Papers went flying… I was awestruck by her height and her presence! Her personal and artistic contributions to classical music are a real inspiration to me and to countless other musicians. Thank you so much, Agnes Varis, Karl Leichtman, and the Metropolitan Opera for this incredible support.”
Dr. Varis added, “Susanna Phillips is a wonderfully talented young artist, and the first soprano to win the Sills award. I’m sure Beverly would be thrilled. With her gorgeous voice and charming presence, Susanna is a perfect example of the kind of young singer Karl and I wanted to support with this award.”
Susanna Phillips made her Met debut last season as Musetta in La Bohème. She returned this season for her first company performances of Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, a role she repeats during the 2010-11 season. A graduate of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Alabama native won four of the world’s leading vocal competitions in 2005—the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the MacAllister Awards, the George London Foundation, and Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, where she won both First Place and the Audience Prize. Phillips made her New York solo recital debut in November, 2009 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall as recipient of the 2009 Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Award. In addition to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Santa Fe, she has sung leading roles with the Dallas Opera, Stockholm Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival, and at Carnegie Hall with the Marilyn Horne Foundation and the Oratorio Society of New York.