Sayao, Glass tributes in music talk

Midcoast ties to international opera

By Dagney C. Ernest | May 01, 2013
Bidu Sayao, who lived much of her life in Lincolnville, is pictured in her opera heyday.

Camden — For more than 50 years, a small sign on Route 1 in Lincolnville puzzled Midcoast drivers-by. The story — and voice — behind “Casa Bidu” will be revealed Thursday evening, May 9, at Camden Public Library during the latest of Michael Paul Lund’s illustrated music history lectures. The free talk will begin 7 p.m. in the library’s Main Street-level Reading Room.

Lund, who lives in Lincolnville, is a trained baritone who performed all over Asia, Canada, Mexico and the United States — including the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. In 1981, he was living just outside the Big Apple and served as president, as well as founder, of the Jules Massenet Society. He was invited to deliver an illustrated music talk about the French composer by the Alliance Française in Manhattan.

Among the guests of honor was a tiny Brazilian woman — Bidu Sayao, who had made a stunning debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1937 as the title role in Massenet’s “Manon.”

“We opened that program to a packed house of 350 people with a recording of Bidu singing from Massenet’s opera ‘Manon’ … Little did I know that day 32 years ago that I would one day not only live in Maine, but in the same town that Bidu did for so many decades,” Lund said, adding he will open the Camden library program with the same selection from “Manon.”

Ten years after her Met debut, Sayao and her husband Giuseppe Danise purchased their Lincolnville home on the oceanside of Route 1. She retired from the Met in 1952 and, after Danise’s death 11 years later, spent much of her time in Maine, with occasional trips to New York — and, if the 2008 film “Milk” is accurate, San Francisco. She did return to her native country in 1995 as the honored guest in Rio de Janeiro’s carnivale. Sayao died in 1999 at Penobscot Bay Medical Center, a couple of months shy of her 97th birthday.

Lund’s program is titled Glory of French & Italian Opera & English Song and will include recordings of singers performing arias, duets and songs. In addition to Sayao, artists to be heard include Guiseppe Di Stefano, Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Anna Moffo, Mado Robin, Henri Legay, Jon Vickers, Giulio Neri, Sylvia McNair, Francoise Pollet and Paul Robeson.

It was Lund’s 2008 program on Robeson that brought him in touch with another of the Midcoast’s international opera connections — Beaumont Glass Jr., who had a career in opera that included the Salzburg Festival; serving as concert accompanist for Metropolitan Opera stars Grace Bumbry, Simon Estes, Martina Arroyo and Francisco Arisa, among others; stage directing and serving as Studiemeister at the Opera House Zurich; directing the Opera Theatre at the University of Iowa; and teaching master classes with his wife, opera singer Evangeline Noel Glass, at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

In his last decade, Beaumont Glass brought his passion for opera to his adopted hometown of Camden, directing productions of the short-lived Maine Grand Opera and sharing his knowledge and expertise with the students of Coastal Senior College. Glass’ local opera colleague Janna Hymes, director of the Maine Pro Musica Orchestra, will do Lund’s introduction.

“The last public event that Mr. Glass attended was my Paul Robeson Tribute. He said he heard Robeson many times and adored the man and his art,” Lund said.

During the lecture, Lund will tell about meeting Di Stefano at a Carnegie Hall reception after recital years ago. He said that Glass and his wife had reminisced with him about seeing Di Stefano and Sayao perform in the Met’s “La Bohème” circa 1949.

“They said it was absolutely magical! I will dedicate three of the musical selections to Mr. Glass,” adding that Evangeline will have a special gift for those who attend the talk.

The program will include music selections of works by Giacomo Puccini, Leo Delibes, Giuseppe Verdi, Frederick Delius, Arrigo Boito, Edouard Lalo, Henri DuParc, Reynaldo Hahn, Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern.

“This will be a very special program for me. I’ll even play a classical recording of mine, done at an event sponsored by the French Embassy,” Lund said.

The great Italian and French operas and its most famous singers comprise a big topic. The talk's opening subject, however, was anything but. Sayao’s Courier-Gazette obituary remarks on the impression she made in her later years on New York visits as “a tiny woman in high heels, her reddish hair pulled back in the chignon familiar to several decades of opera fans.” Lund’s memory matches that testimony.

“Bidu was 81 years old at that time — tiny and seemingly frail but indeed most charming,” he said.

Those who find themselves charmed by the lecture’s voices will have an opportunity to take some of them home, thanks to Lund’s Serendipity Recordings cache.

Lund’s most recent lectures have been focused on vintage popular music, but his training is in classical music and he said he felt like returning to his roots … and this subject made for a rich harvest.

“There will be a second program at some point. No music lecture I’ve done in Maine has had so much time spent on it — it’s been a real labor of love,” he said.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Bidu Sayao sings "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
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