By Joe Lopes
I grew up around music and the movies. In fact, over the past three years, I have been working on several projects devoted to these entertainment forms, one of which charts the rise and fall of opera in Brazil and the intermingling of Brazilian popular music. The best example of this mixing of two disparate elements, however, was perfectly embodied in the strikingly similar stories of the lives of entertainer Carmen Miranda and soprano Bidu Sayao. Here, then, are two chapters from my upcoming book, Brazil’s Fat Lady Can’t Sing,” describing the ups and downs and overall turnarounds in the careers of these two highly influential and entertaining personalities.”
When the Stars First Came Out
As the soprano concluded the last of her encores and was savoring the applause of an appreciative public gathered to hear her command performance at the White House in Washington, DC, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enthusiastically approached the fragile-looking figure before him and complimented Bidu Sayão on a most enjoyable concert program.
In the same breath, he casually proposed to the Brazilian singer an immediate American citizenship, most likely a calculated gesture on his part, and motivated by his administration’s bold dedication to the policy of the “good Northern neighbor.”
Obviously flattered by her host’s generous offer, the gracious Bidu politely declined. “Thank you, Mr. President,” she was acknowledged to have replied, “but I am a Brazilian artist, and would like to die as one.” The date was February 1938.
A little over a year later, on May 17, Broadway producer Lee Shubert, of the Shubert Brothers Theatrical Company, was getting ready to greet another Brazilian artist, one whose ship had just pulled into New York harbor, with her band and retinue in tow.
She was scheduled to make her US stage debut in the Shuberts’ 1939 musical revue “The Streets of Paris,” a show that featured the local appearance of comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The artist’s name was Carmen Miranda.
Disembarking from the SS Uruguay, she was met by a horde of big-city newspaper reporters, all eager to record the spontaneous comments of this sizzling new Latin sensation.
Carmen did not disappoint them. Her first words to the waiting crowd were reported to have been, “I say money, money, money, and I say hot dog! I say yes and no, and I say money, money, money, and I say turkey sandwich, and I say grape juice,” and so on.
These two radically distinct responses, and seemingly unrelated occurrences, would come to denote to the Brazilian artistic community at large that, for a precious lucky few, living and working in North America – even while earning fame and fortune on her streets and in her theaters – would prove to be a most illusory pursuit.
They would also serve to teach multi-talented Brazilian nationals some valuable life lessons in the world outside their native land: that the pains and compromises, glories and frustrations, triumphs and disappointments all such artists regularly endured for their art were no substitute for the loss of their individual identity.
To paraphrase a line from Rudyard Kipling, rare were the artists that could keep their own heads, when all about them others were losing theirs. And there exist no finer examples of this than the stories of these two marvelous Brazilian singers.
Certainly, the old truism that “good things come in small packages” was never more so than in describing the physically compact and vocally alluring attributes of the lovely Bidu Sayão and the electric Carmen Miranda. In reverse proportion to their small stature, they were the central figures in Brazilian opera and popular entertainment for the better part of 30 years.
Part 2 next week…
Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes
A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his Brazilian wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. He is a lover of all types of music, especially opera and jazz, as well as an incurable fan of classic and contemporary films. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.
To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:
Teaching English In Brazil Part 20
Teaching English In Brazil Part 19
Teaching English In Brazil Part 18
Teaching English In Brazil Part 17
Teaching English In Brazil Part 16
Teaching English In Brazil Part 15
Teaching English In Brazil Part 14
Teaching English In Brazil Part 13
Teaching English In Brazil Part 12
Teaching English In Brazil Part 11
Brazil: Thrills, Spills, and… Oh Yes, No Ifs, Ands or Head-Butts, Please
Teaching English In Brazil Part 10
Teaching English In Brazil Part 9
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 4
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 4
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 3
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 2
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 3
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 2
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 2
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 1
Teaching English In Brazil Part 8
Teaching English In Brazil Part 7
Teaching English In Brazil Part 6
Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?“