Bidu Sayao in program of opera arias from the 1940s

by | Dec 26, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Bidu Sayao, soprano = MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro: Non so piu cosa son; Voi che sapete; Don Giovanni: Batti, batti o bel Masetto; Vedrai, carino; BELLINI: La Somnambula: Ah, non credea mirati; VERDI: La Traviata: Ah, fors‚ e lui. . .Sempre libera; GOUNOD: Faust: Il etait un roi de Thule; Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle; Romeo et Juliette: Je vex vivre; MASSENET: Manon: Je suis encore; Voyons Manon; Adieu, note petite table; Obeissons quand leur voix appelle; LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Stridono lassu; PUCCINI: La Boheme: Si, mi chiamano Mimi; Quando m‚en vo; sDonde lieta usci; Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo; Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro
 – Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/ Fausto Cleva/ Pietro Cimara (Massenet; Leoncavallo; Puccini Boheme and Schicchi)/ Erich Leinsdorf  (Mozart Don Giovanni; Verdi; Gounod Romeo; Massenet; Puccini La Boheme and Mme. Butterfly)

Preiser 89624 mono, 75:21 (Distrib. Albany) *****:

Like that of many old record collectors, my first impression of Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao (1902-1999) derives from a 78 rpm CBS inscription from 1945 of the aria from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, with the composer leading a consort of eight celli which included Leonard Rose. The wordless vocalise displayed a fragile, crystalline voice of supreme lightness and musical fluency, a natural coloratura instrument. I was not alone in my estimate, which found more confirmation in her brilliant 1942 aria and cavatina from Verdi’s La Traviata, in which Violetta tries to celebrate her freedom even in the face of consuming passion.

Sayao reigned as a leading lyric soprano at the Metropolitan Opera from 1938-1951, a tenure which embraced her signature roles as Mimi, Susanna, Zerlina, and Juliet. Petite and demure, Sayao managed to fuse a natural acting talent to her ability to project dramatic focus into her characterizations, a product of her work with Jean de Reszke. These CBS inscriptions range from 1941-1947.  Her sustaining tone and breath control could be nonpareil, as in the finale from Massenet’s Voyons Manon, which features a mesmerizing diminuendo. The sweet legato of Sayao’s voice distils liquid purity from any musical line, as we witness in Adieu, notre petite table, with its diverse nuances of emotion; then the segue into the gavotte Obeissons quand leur voix appelle, requiring light chromatic leaps and elegant diction. As each aria ends, we can only imagine the bursts of applause at the actual concert.

Juliette’s one aria from 1941 must be supplemented by her appearances with Jussi Bjoerling in performance. The 1947 aria from I Pagliacci is our only example of verismo style in this collection, and it demonstrates a direct, declamatory style which easily transitions to the piccolo effects of which Sayao’s voice commanded total mastery. The opening and closing groups, by Mozart and Puccini respectively, ring with a flavor of stylistic authenticity that should revive Sayao’s sound image for anyone who loves superior vocal artistry. Between Sayao’s Cherubino and Mimi I am thoroughly beguiled: each has the touch of the coquette colored by a palpitating intimation of mortality. Musetta’s aria seethes with earthy possibilities. I dedicate this album review to my fond memories of my sponsor and mentor, George Jellinek of WQXR-FM, whose own classic interview of Sayao for his show The Vocal Scene, remains a legend in radio history.  Five stars means I believe in this record.

–Gary Lemco

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