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Bidù Sayão – light lyric soprano

By April 25, 2019March 17th, 2023No Comments

Bidu Sayao was a Brazilian soprano whose gossamer voice and vivacious personality made her one of the most popular stars of the Metropolitan Opera from the late 1930’s through the 40’s, 

She studied with Jean de Reske in Europe.  Reske was known as a world famous tenor and a world famous voice teacher, and he was able to turn Sayão’s voice into spun gold.  Sayão had a relatively small voice (a light lyric soprano), and she was unable to sing the heavier soprano repertory such as Tosca and Butterfly.  However, she excelled in the light lyric fach, and her Traviata was a marvel.

Bachiana Brasilera No. 5

For a comparison, Victoria de los Angeles does a wonderful job with this piece, but her Portuguese is not good.  Sayão’s Portuguese was native.

Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente.
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!
Surge no infinito a lua docemente,
Enfeitando a tarde, qual meiga donzela
Que se apresta e a linda sonhadoramente,
Em anseios d’alma para ficar bela
Grita ao céu e a terra toda a natureza!
Cala a passarada aos seus tristes queixumes
E reflete o mar toda a sua riqueza…
Suave a luz da lua desperta agora
A cruel saudade que ri e chora!
Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!

In the evening, a rosy cloud, slowly and transparently
Over the space, dreamlike and beautiful!
The moon appearing in the endlessness, gently
Embellishing the evening, like a sweet maid
Preparing herself till she’s dreamily beautiful,
With her soul yearning to become beautiful
Shouting to the sky and earth, to all Nature!
The birds are silent listening to her sad plaints
And the sea reflects all of her richness
Softly the light of the moon awakens now
A bitter longing that laughs and cries!
In the evening, a rosy cloud, slowly and transparently
Over the space, dreamlike and beautiful!

Verdi, La Traviata, Sempre Libera

Violetta sola
È strano! è strano! in core
Scolpiti ho quegli accenti!
Sarìa per me sventura un serio amore?
Che risolvi, o turbata anima mia?
Null’uomo ancora t’accendeva
O gioia
Ch’io non conobbi, essere amata amando!
E sdegnarla poss’io
Per l’aride follie del viver mio?


Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima
Solinga ne’ tumulti
Godea sovente pingere
De’ suoi colori occulti!
Lui che modesto e vigile
All’egre soglie ascese,
E nuova febbre accese,
Destandomi all’amor.
A quell’amor ch’è palpito
Dell’universo intero,
Misterioso, altero,
Croce e delizia al cor.

Resta concentrata un istante, poi dice

Follie! follie delirio vano è questo!
Povera donna, sola
Abbandonata in questo
Popoloso deserto
Che appellano Parigi,
Che spero or più?
Che far degg’io!
Di voluttà nei vortici perire.
Sempre libera degg’io
Folleggiar di gioia in gioia,
Vo’ che scorra il viver mio
Pei sentieri del piacer,
Nasca il giorno, o il giorno muoia,
Sempre lieta ne’ ritrovi
A diletti sempre nuovi
Che volare il mio pensier.

How strange it is … how strange!
Those words are carved upon my heart!
Would a true love bring me misfortune?
What do you think, o my troubled spirit?
No man before kindled a flame like this.
Oh, joy …
I never knew, to love and to be loved!
Can I disdain this
For a life of sterile pleasure?


Was this the man my heart,
Alone in the crowd,
Delighted many times to paint
In vague, mysterious colours?
This man, so watchful yet retiring,
Who haunted my sick?bed
And turned my fever
Into the burning flame of love!
That love,
The pulse of the whole world,
Mysterious, unattainable,
The torment and delight of my heart.


It’s madness! It’s empty delirium!
A poor, lonely woman
Abandoned in this teeming desert
They call Paris!
What can I hope? What should I do?
Enjoy myself! Plurge into the vortex
Of pleasure and drown there!
Enjoy myself!Free and aimless I must flutter
From pleasure to pleasure,
Skimming the surface
Of life’s primrose path.
As each day dawns,
As each day dies,
Gaily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.

Bidù Sayão

Bidu Sayao was a Brazilian soprano whose gossamer voice and vivacious personality made her one of the most popular stars of the Metropolitan Opera from the late 1930’s through the 40’s, 

Sayao was constrained by her relatively small voice to the lyric and coloratura repertory, often expressed regret that she could not sing such heavier roles as Tosca and Butterfly. But her interpretations of Manon, Violetta in ”La Traviata,” Mimi in ”La Boheme” and Susanna in ”Le Nozze di Figaro,” among other roles, received consistent praise, with critics stressing her expressiveness, sensibility, girlishness and excellence of phrasing.

Balduina de Oliveira Sayao was born on May 11, 1902, into a wealthy family in Rio de Janeiro. Although her childhood dramatizations in front of a mirror convinced her that she had a future as an actress, the family conviction that it was a metier for loose women dashed that hope. Piano lessons, too, were a decided failure, but when she was 13 a music-loving uncle helped arrange lessons with a celebrated former soprano, Elena Theodorini.

After several years of study and appearances at the court of Romania, her teacher’s native country, Miss Sayao studied recital repertory in France with the world-famous tenor Jean de Reszke. An eventual audition in Rome led to an engagement as Rosina in ”Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” and by her late 20’s she had sung at many opera houses in Europe and South America.

Arturo Toscanini, who was preparing an all-Debussy program for the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra — precursor of the New York Philharmonic — engaged the young soprano whose years in France had perfected her pronunciation, and gave her one week to learn ”La Demoiselle Elue.” A short time later the Metropolitan Opera, which had recently lost Lucrezia Bori, a stalwart of French repertory, to retirement, invited Miss Sayao to sing the title role in ”Manon” in February 1937.

In The Times, Olin Downes wrote of the debut, ”Miss Sayao triumphed as a Manon should, by manners, youth and charm, and secondly by the way in which the voice became the vehicle of dramatic expression.” The singer never again left the Western Hemisphere. The Met was her base, the San Francisco Opera her alternate headquarters and South America the only foreign territory to hear her in live performance.

A month after her first Met ”Manon,” Miss Sayao sang the lead role in ”La Traviata.” Two weeks later she sang her first ”Boheme” in the house.

In all, the soprano sang more than 200 performances of 12 different roles at the Metropolitan. She made several opera and song recordings and gave many recitals. In December 1943 she and the baritone Lawrence Tibbett were soloists with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Artur Rodzinski for the inaugural concert at the City Center of Music and Drama. The United States Government decorated her for her many performances in Army camps and hospitals during World War II.

Sayão’s most famous recording was The piece, ”Bachiana Brasileira No. 5,”, in part a vocalise, was transcribed for her by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.