Born at the beginning of the last century, the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayão, a pupil of the tenor Jean de Reszke, first made her career in Europe as a coloratura, singing such roles as Lucia, Elvira, Amina and Zerbinetta. She made her US debut in 1935, and was soon after engaged by Toscanini for a performance of Debussy’s La damoiselle élue, making her Met debut in 1937 in the role of Manon. Thereafter she became a great favourite and sang regularly there until 1952, when she retired from the stage, retiring completely from public performance in 1957. In 1959 she made her final recording, of Villa-Lobos’s Forest of the Amazon, with the composer conducting, and it is the Aria from Bachianas-brasilieras, no. 5, also conducted by the composer which opens this disc. Of the many recordings that exist of this popular piece, this one is certainly one of the best, and might even be considered definitive.
From there we turn to French opera and we note her perfect diction and facility in the language. Juliette’s Waltz Song is all youthful charm and lightness, the voice clear and bright with none of the acidity often associated with coloratura sopranos of the time (though one imagines the voice was quite small and certainly not capable of singing the big Act IV aria, which indeed is cut in the live recording of the opera with Bjørling as Roméo). Charm and grace also characterise her Marguerite and Manon, but she is able to find a deeper vein of feeling for an Adieu notre petite table, which is close to the ideal.
We next hear a group of French songs, both with orchestra and piano. Hahn’s Si mes vers avaient des ailes suffers somewhat from an awful (and not particularly well-played) orchestral arrangement, but Duparc’s Chanson triste is quite lovely, even if the orchestra isn’t much better. Her peformance of L’année en vain chasse l’année from Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue rivals that of Victoria De Los Angeles, and we also hear a charming performance, with piano accompaniment, of Ravel’s Toi, le coeur de la rose, excised from his L’enfant et les sortilèges, which works remarkably well out of context.
A selection of Folk Songs of Brazil, arranged by Ernani Braga, bring this lovely disc to a fitting close. The disc is beautifully presented with plenty of photos and articles in English, German and French, though, regrettably, no texts or translations, and is a fitting memorial to a charming and lovely soprano.