Maria Severa is, perhaps, the first fadista icon in Portugal.
She was baptized on September 12, 1820 in Paróquia dos Anjos, which is why some people say that she was born in Mouraria, where in fact, in Rua do Capelão, she lived part of her life, and where she died. But the most believed theory is that she was born in Madragoa where her mother, Barbuda (so called because she had a beard that forced her to cut her often and cover her with a scarf), a famous and feared prostitute of the Mouraria that had a tavern on Rua da Madragoa.
Then Severa beat fado with Manozinho, the oldest fado singer on that place, and Mesquita, a fado singer who was also sailor.
She lived only 26 years – from 1820 to 1846 -, but Maria Severa Onofriana, revolutionized the Lisbon of her time, and great was her fame in life and even more after her death.
The writer Júlio Dantas was responsible for this aura of fame for his novel and, later, for the play “A Severa”, which later Leitão de Barros adapted to the cinema, having been the first Portuguese sound film. Starring Dina Tereza, the film premiered in June 1931 at Teatro S. Luiz, where it was on stage for six months and was seen by 200,000 viewers.
The character of the novel, from which the myth of Severa was built, does not fully correspond to the real life of the singer who was, among others, a lover of the last Count of Vimioso. The actress Palmira Bastos who came to embody the character of Severa on stage stated that she was “the Portuguese lady of the camellias”.
Maria Severa was distinguished by the “quarrelsome” character she had inherited from her mother, but essentially by her voice and the way she sang, in addition to her slender figure. She was “tall, thin but not too thin, opulent breast, very white skin, black eyes, a lot of black hair, heavy eyebrows, very small red mouth, beautiful teeth, thin waist and small foot”, as described by a contemporary.
The painter Francisco Metrass (1825-1861) still sketched her portrait, without ever finishing it.
Severa lived in the full advent of liberalism when the end of the Old Absolute Regime began to be felt.
Her contemporaries say that they left memories written about Severa, who besides singing fado, accompanied herself, on a tuning guitar, and even wrote the poems she sang.
A companion of her, Manuel Botas, describes her peculiar way of singing: “Sometimes she kept herself melancholy, in those moments she sang with such a feeling that she made a deep impression on us”.
Severa, of which there is no voice record, is said to have been the first person to sing fados in the street and raise her problems representing the people, and the reason why fado has spread to the level of national entity that today is.
She had several well-known lovers, among them the Count of Vimioso (D. Francisco de Paula de Portugal and Castro) who, according to legend, was bewitched by the way she sang and played the guitar, often taking her to the bullfight. It provided him with a great celebrity and naturally allowed Severa greater prestige and a greater number of opportunities to show off to an audience of young people from the Portuguese social and intellectual elite.
But the social difference was never going to allow a marriage between the both and, the story says, this caused the death of Severa who died from a broken heart. She actually died poor and abandoned, of tuberculosis, in a miserable brothel on Rua do Capelão, on November 30, 1846.
Her last words are said to have been: “I die without ever having lived” – She was 26 years old.
Many of you have probably heard of the Portuguese music, a world cultural heritage: the Fado. About this music we will surely find out more in a next article, but today my post is dedicated to a painting that turned out to be the most representative image of fado, the one that we often find on the streets of Lisbon in tiles or posters or advertisements outside the houses of Fado. I am talking about one of the great Portuguese paintings: José Malhoa’s Fado.
Born on 28th April 1855, José Malhoa is considered to be one of the greatest Portuguese painters. He was a pioneer in Portugal following the Naturalism movement and his work stood out for being closed to Impressionism. We’re not getting into more details on his biography, but we will only emphasize a moment, which certainly marked his own personal and artistic life. Everything goes around a painting called – O Fado – which brilliantly portrays the soul of this music style, a symbol of the Portuguese music.
There are two versions known of the painting O Fado by José Malhoa. One is from 1909, and another one from 1910. Most likely from the idea to its conception José Malhoa spent some moments before until finally reaching to the versions we know. The painting’s history began when José Malhoa felt the need to portray Fado music, which started to become a success among the bourgeois, intellectuals and aristocrats as it had been mostly associated to marginality and the poor neighbourhoods.
The painter first used professional models for the first sketches, but it wasn’t enough for him. They wanted to capture the true essence of fado and he could only do that by using real models. He wandered about for a long time through the neighbourhoods of Alfama, Bairro Alto until he found what he wanted in Mouraria, where today its residents defend proudly on being the cradle of Fado.
José Malhoa met the two models portrayed on the painting. He was Amâncio Augusto Esteves, bully, fado singer and guitar player and she was Adelaide da Facada (of the Knife), called that for having a scar on the left side of her face. During the day she sold lottery tickets and at night she was a prostitute. During a month the painter went several times to Adelaide’s home in Capelão street, to portray the closest environment he was watching. Then later he created the same space in his atelier. The people of the neighbourhood were first intrigued by his presence, but got used to it and started to call him the ‘’fancy painter’’. Many times, Malhoa had to explain to the police his presence in the neighbourhood and had to go to the prison regularly in order to release his two models to continue to do his work. The ‘’fancy painter’’ had to use a lot of his patience and diplomacy to get on well with Amâncio. His first plan was to pain Adelaide naked, or almost, causing jealousy and threats by the bully.
In spite of all these peculiar situations, Malhoa managed to complete his work and show it to the upper class but also to the Mouraria’s residents in search of their opinion. The painting got at first bad reviews, defending that he was portraying the minor side of Fado, related to marginality. However, it was critically acclaimed abroad and travelled to Buenos Aires (with the title of “Será verdade), where it got a golden medal, Paris (called “Sous le charme”, Liverpool (called “The native song) and San Francisco.
In 1917 the painting version of 1910 was bought by the city council of Lisbon for the value of four thousand escudos, and it was placed at the noble saloon in Paços do Concelho building until it was moved permanently to the City Museum. Today the museum has lent the painting to the Fado Museum. The 1909 version is in a private collection.
The story of this painting was also told in a fado, which here you can hear sung by the voice of Amalia Rodrigues
On July 23, 1920, a woman was born in Lisbon, whose name would remain forever linked to the history of Portugal: Amalia Rodrigues. At 14 months, she was left in the care of her maternal grandparents when her parents returned to Beira Baixa. Having had, at a very young age, several occupations – from embroiderer to waitress – she sang for the first time in public in 1935, at a charity party, accompanied by an uncle.
As a professional, she made her debut in 1939 at Retiro da Severa. In the following year, she performed in Madrid, starting a national and international career unmatched by any other Portuguese artist. In 1944, she traveled for the first time to Brazil where her success was so great that she would end up staying there longer than expected and returning there many more times.
She sang for the first time at the Olympia de Paris, in 1956, at a farewell party for Josephine Baker, but only the following year would she act on that stage as the main and absolute artist.
Her powerful and expressive voice was heard and applauded almost everywhere in the world. Amália Rodrigues became the great promoter of fado abroad and is recognised as the greatest interpreter of the long tradition of this type of music.
There were countless concerts that she gave throughout her artistic life and there were also several situations in which she was venerated, such as those that took place in the great tribute show at the Coliseu dos Recreios de Lisboa, where she received the Grand Cross of the Order of Santiago and Espada (1990); at the ceremony in which François Mitterrand, President of the Republic of France, awarded her the Legion of Honor (1991); and at the Gare Marítima de Alcântara show, shown live by Radiotelevisão Portuguesa (1995).
The Portuguese fado singer died on October 6, 1999 and was buried on October 8, after funeral ceremonies that had state honours. She was 79 years old. The news of her death spread around the world and moved the country. About 50,000 people accompanied the artist’s urn in the procession between the Estrela basilica and the Prazeres cemetery, in Lisbon.
The Portuguese singer, actress and fado singer, who many continue to acclaim as the voice of Portugal and consider one of the most brilliant world singers of the 20th century, is now buried in the National Pantheon, where she was moved 21 months later, in July 2001.
Some curiosities that not everyone knows:
– After working in an embroidery studio, Amália Rodrigues goes to work for a candy factory, close to home. The future artist peels quinces and wraps candy while singing. Colleagues praise her voice and, as the hours go by, ask for more songs.
– Debuted in a yellow dress with green stripes. She debuted as a fado singer in the fado house O Retiro da Severa in July 1939. On the eve of the first public performance, Jorge Soriano’s wife, the owner of the space, went with the interpreter of “Gaivota” and “Barco negro” at shopping. The choice fell on a short-sleeved dress, yellow with green stripes, with a lace bib and a golden collar.
– The lyrics for “Foi Deus”, one of Amália Rodrigues’ most popular fados, were composed by a pharmacist from Reguengos de Monsaraz in Alentejo. Proud of the composition, which was written at the table of a local cafe, Alberto Janes announces, shortly afterwards, to friends that he is preparing to travel to Lisbon to offer it to the fado singer. The majority, incredulous, laughs. Days later, it rings at the door of Amalia. She reads the poem and agrees to record fado.
– In 1952, Amália Rodrigues went on to conquer America and triumphed across the board. Some agents propose to her to record songs in English of composers like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Samuel Barber. The fado singer refuses. In Hollywood, there are also several film producers who dispute her. 20th Century Fox executives offer to her a millionaire contract. The artist returns to Lisbon without giving an answer.