Bidu Sayão

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Bidu Sayão
Bidu Sayão.png
Sayão during a visit to the University of Michigan. (c. 1953)
Balduína de Oliveira Sayão

11 May 1902
Died12 March 1999(1999-03-12) (aged 96)
OccupationOpera soprano
Years active1920–1952
Bidu Sayão as Manon (Massenet), in the season of 1940 of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Balduína "Bidú" de Oliveira Sayão (11 May 1902 – 12 March 1999) was a Brazilian opera soprano. One of Brazil's most famous musicians, Sayão was a leading artist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1937 to 1952.

Life and career[edit]

Bidu Sayão was born on 11 May 1902[1] to a family of Portuguese, French and Swiss heritage, in Itaguaí, Rio de Janeiro. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother struggled to support her daughter's pursuit of a singing career. At just eighteen, the Bidu Sayão made her major opera debut in Rio de Janeiro. Her performance led to an opportunity to study with the famous Elena Teodorini, first in Brazil, then in Romania; and then to study with Polish tenor Jean de Reszke, in Nice. During the mid-1920s and early 1930s, she performed in Rome, Buenos Aires, Paris, as well as in her native Brazil. While at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, she met impresario Walter Mocchi (1870–1955). After his wife, soprano Emma Carelli, died in 1928, the two became romantically involved and were married. However, it did not last and in 1935 Sayão married Italian baritone Giuseppe Danise (1883–1963).

In 1930, she debuted at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and in the next year she sang a successful Juliette, in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, at the Paris Opera. In the same year, she gained a great success with her debut at the Opéra Comique as Lakmé. She soon became one of the leading lyric coloratura sopranos in Europe, especially in Italy and France. Her repertoire included Lucia di Lammermoor, Amina in La sonnambula, Elvira in I puritani, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Cecilia in Il Guarany, among other roles.

Metropolitan Opera[edit]

Bidu Sayão made her U.S. debut in a recital at Town Hall in New York City on 30 December 1935. Her U.S. operatic debut followed on 21 January 1936, when she and Danise sang in the penultimate production of the Washington National Opera, a semi-professional company not associated with its modern namesake; the performance, of Léo Delibes's Lakmé, was marred by a fractious dispute in which the orchestra musicians declined to play without payment in cash, and ultimately the performance was accompanied by a portable organ, with some singers appearing in costume and some in street clothes owing to a similar demand by the stage hands and costume man.[2] Altogether more dignified was her performance a few months later with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall singing La Damoiselle élue by Debussy. Her performance was under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, who would become her greatest supporter and lifelong friend.

She sang her first performance at the Metropolitan Opera as Manon on 13 February 1937, replacing the Spanish soprano Lucrezia Bori. The critics, including Olin Downes of The New York Times,[3] raved about her performance and within a few weeks she was given the lead in La traviata, followed soon thereafter by Mimì in La bohème. She also contributed to the Mozart revival at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the pre-eminent Zerlina (Don Giovanni) and Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro) of her generation.

She performed to much acclaim for the University of Michigan May Festival in 1948 with Conductor Thor Johnson. She sang "Un Bel Di" from Madame Butterfly as an encore.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos had an artistic partnership with the diva that lasted many years. He made a number of recordings of his compositions, including a famous recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.[4]

Bidu Sayão and her husband Giuseppe Danise purchased an oceanfront property in Lincolnville, Maine. After fifteen years with the Metropolitan Opera, she gave her last performance in 1952, choosing to retire from opera while still at the top of her form. For the next two years she was a guest performer throughout the U.S., but in 1957 she decided to retire completely from public performance; two years later she made her final recording as the soprano soloist on Villa-Lobos' world premiere stereo recording of his cantata Forest of the Amazon with the composer conducting the Symphony of the Air.[5]

Following her husband's death in 1963, Bidu Sayão lived quietly at her home in Maine. She returned to visit Brazil a last time in 1995 for a tribute to her during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. She died on 12 March 1999, aged 96, at the Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Maine.[6] Her ashes were scattered across the bay in front of her home.


Following her last visit to her homeland, the government prepared plans to honor her memory. In 2000 the Bidu Sayão International Vocal Competition was established to promote Brazilian operatic talent through a world-class competition. Sayão's portrait, painted by Curtis Ether, hangs in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.


  • The Last Prima Donnas, by Lanfranco Rasponi, Alfred A Knopf, Bidu Sayão, p. 507 (1982); ISBN 0-394-52153-6


  1. ^ Haag, John (2002). "Sayao, Bidu (1902–1999)". In Commire, Anne (ed.). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, Connecticut: Yorkin Publications. pp. 843–844. ISBN 0-7876-4074-3.
  2. ^ McPherson, Jim. "Mr. Meek Goes to Washington: The Story of the Small-Potatoes Canadian Baritone Who Founded America’s 'National' Opera", The Opera Quarterly, volume 20, no. 2, Spring 2004
  3. ^ "TimesMachine: BIDU SAYAO MAKES DEBUT IN 'MANON'; Gifted Soprano Sings the Title Role of Massenet Opera at the Metropolitan GREETED WITH APPLAUSE Rayner Substitutes for Maison on Short Notice in Part of des Grieux Acting Is of Courtly Style Role Sung With Eclat Gavotte Well Done -" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Review". Gramophone.
  5. ^ "Heitor Villa-Lobos, Bidu Sayao - Inspiration - Brazil: Villa-Lobos: Forest of the Amazon - Music". Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  6. ^ Bourdain, Gladys (13 March 1999). "Bidu Sayão, 94, Star Soprano of the 30s and 40s, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2009.

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