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Brazilian Opera Singer Dead at 94

March 12, 1999

LINCOLNVILLE, Maine (AP) _ Bidu Sayao, the Brazilian-born soprano whose pure, silvery voice and personal charm made her one of the most beloved opera singers of the 1930s and ’40s, died Friday at age 94.

Sayao, who had retired to this seacoast town at the end of her career in 1958, died from complications of pneumonia after a brief illness at Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, said Brett Shewey, who was handling funeral arrangements.

Sayao’s crystalline voice enchanted conductor Arturo Toscanini, and he trained her for her U.S. debut in Carnegie Hall in 1934. She made a triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut during the 1936-37 season singing the title role of Massenet’s ``Manon.″

Her Met career lasted until 1951 and included such lyric and coloratura soprano roles as Mimi in Puccini’s ``La Boheme,″ Melisande in Debussy’s ``Pelleas and Melisande,″ and Susanna in Mozart’s ``The Marriage of Figaro.″

She was noted for her warmth and refinement and an ability to bring her frequently girlish characters to life without resorting to mannerisms.

Sayao also made extensive concert tours, performing in 49 states. To show her gratitude for her adopted homeland, Sayao sang for wounded soldiers returning from World War II. She became a U.S. citizen in 1959.

Jeff Smith, her caretaker, said Sayao was in the hospital for a month before she died. She had suffered a near-fatal stroke two years before emerging triumphant on a stage at the Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro in 1995.

Brian Kellow, executive editor of Opera News, recalled Sayao as an impassioned singer whose recordings live on today _ particularly her performances of Mozart.

``You put them on and you have to stop what you’re doing. You have to listen,″ he said in a telephone interview from New York. ``They don’t make good background music. They require your attention. They command it.″

Sayao was married to baritone Giuseppe Danise, who died in 1963. Her only survivor is a nephew in Brazil, Smith said.

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