From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

We Will Survive

Never, never, never, never give up.

Winston Churchill

When I took over the job as general director of the New York City Opera in 1979, every bit of financial information was uniformly bad. Dozens of creditors were calling. We owed everybody—even Lincoln Center, where we performed.

In my first year as general director I raised $5 million, which was $1.5 million less than what we lost. I was focusing so hard on the money plight that I almost forgot why I’d wanted the job to begin with—to produce operas.

The first one I got involved with was Silverlake, presented in March 1980. Broadway producer Hal Prince was brought in to direct, and Joel Grey was cast in the lead.

On opening night Hal gave me a plant that I placed on a little wooden stand in my office. Within a week the plant died. That really bothered me. One of its leaves was still green, so I clipped it off, chucked the plant in a wastebasket and then planted the leaf. I took very good care of that leaf. I watered it every day and left it under a lamp at night. I made sure everyone knew that lamp had to stay on at night. I then pasted the headline of a newspaper article about me across the bottom of the pot. The headline read: “I WON’T BE DEFEATED”—BEVERLY SILLS’ INDOMITABLE SPIRIT IS INFUSING NEW LIFE INTO THE NEW YORK CITY OPERA.

Everyone who worked in our underground warren thought I had lost my mind over that leaf. But pretty soon they all started coming by to water it. I know this will strike you as a little crazy, but everybody really started rooting for that little leaf to live. I don’t know how long we kept it up, but one morning when I walked in, another little shoot had come up through the soil. A couple of days later another one appeared, and then another after that, and eventually that leaf became a lovely, healthy plant that’s alive and well in my basement office of the New York City Opera. You don’t have to tell me how dumb it was for a group of intelligent people to identify with a leaf, but we did. That leaf survived. The New York City Opera would survive. It had to.

Beverly Sills

Beverly, by Beverly

Sills and Lawrence Linderman

More stories from our partners