In 1947 she came second in a contest to find the most popular singer in the United States. As Mimi in La Boheme, as Massenet's Manon, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Violetta in La Traviata and Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, she gave over 250 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, in New York and on tour, while she also appeared frequently in San Francisco, Chicago and many other cities across the country.
She was born Balduina Sayao de Oliveira in 1902 in Rio de Janeiro, where she began her vocal studies with the Romanian soprano Elena Theodorini. When Theodorini returned to Bucharest in 1924 to teach at the Conservatory there, her pupil accompanied her. Bid Sayao also studied in Nice with the legendary Polish tenor Jean de Reszke, whose pupils included Maggie Teyte.
Sayao made her operatic debut in 1926 at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and then sang Gilda in Rigoletto and Carolina in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio di segreto there. She next appeared in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Lisbon and Naples, in a repertory that included the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor, Elvira in I puritani, and Norina in Don Pasquale and Delibes' Lakme. In 1930 she sang Rosina at La Scala.
A concert at Town Hall, New York in 1935 had spectacular results for the singer's career. She was noticed by Toscanini, who engaged her for other concerts, and made her Metropolitan debut in 1937 as Massenet's Manon. She scored a huge and immediate success, and from then on until her retirement, she could do no wrong in the eyes of the New York public.
While retaining several of her coloratura roles, such as Juliette and Rosina, she embarked on a more lyric repertory, including Mimi, Violetta, Susanna, Zerlina and Adina in L'elisir d'amore. She made her San Francisco debut in 1939 as Manon, and sang there frequently until 1952, when she added Margherita in Boito's Mefistofele to her tally of roles.
Another San Francisco role was Debussy's Melisande, which she also sang at the Met, and which suited her voice and personality perfectly. Sayao appeared in Chicago between 1941 and 1945, and sang Zerlina in two special "calling card" performances of Don Giovanni in February 1954 to mark the opening of the Chicago Lyric Theatre (later to become Lyric Opera of Chicago).
In 1947 Sayao married, as her second husband, the baritone Giuseppe Danise, who had had a successful operatic career in Italy and, during the 1930s, at the Metropolitan. He acted as her manager for the remainder of her career. The soprano continued to sing in concert until 1957, then gave a final farewell performance on stage in Rio de Janeiro. She became an American citizen two years later and, when her husband died in 1963, retired to live on the coast of Maine.
Bidu Sayao recorded most of her best roles, including those heroines frail in body and spirit, Mimi, Manon, Violetta and Melisande, whom she incarnated so well. Her interpretations are carefully thought out and sung with eloquence, style and a controlled but deep and genuine feeling.
Balduina Sayao de Oliveira (Bid Sayao), opera singer: born Rio de Janeiro 11 May 1902: married first Walter Mochi, second 1947 Giuseppe Danise (died 1963); died Lincolnville, Maine 12 March 1999.