Bidú Sayão Brazilian The Met soprano 1902-1999

Bidú Sayão Brazilian soprano 1902-1999

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

Bidú Sayão Brazilian soprano 1902-1999

Life and career

Bidu Sayão was born on 11 May 1902 to a family of Portuguese, French and Swiss heritage,in, 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

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. 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 ,  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.

Jussi Björling

She sang opposite Jussi Björling in two performances of  Gounods Romeo et Juliette in 1947 but also in La Bohème 1948 on three occasions.

She performed to much acclaim for the University of Michigan May Festival in 1948 with Conductor Thor Johnson. She sang ”Un Bel Di Vedremo” 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.

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.

She was a honoured guest at Metropolitan Opera Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera in October 1983. There she heard another famous Swedish tenor – Gösta Winbergh.

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.

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 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.

Sayão during a visit to the University of Michigan. (c. 1953)

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