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Beverly Sills

Hitting the high notes

Hitting the high notes

MaryAnn Evangelista suddenly withdrew her nimble fingers from the keys of her upright piano, and the student singing along with her also stopped short. For an instant, the studio in her Elkridge home became very still.

"Something has closed up," she informed Mary Ratcliffe, who had been deep in the throes of performing Mozart's "Das Veilchen," an opera whose German title translates to "The Violet." The vocal teacher then demonstrated what she was listening for: a full and open sound that ascends up the throat and out the top of the head.

"Don't take the stairs," she gently chided her student and close friend. "You've...