Five Brazilian Music Figures Missing from the World Cup Opening Ceremony

Thursday, June 05, 2014

World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil (

On June 12, the 2014 World Cup will kick off with an opening ceremony featuring Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and Brazilian performers Claudia Leitte and band Olodum. However, we’re a little disappointed that this spectacle – which will precede the first soccer match of the tournament between the host country and Croatia – is not expected to feature Brazil's classical music heritage. Here are five figures who would merit a place at the event:

1. Heitor Villa-Lobos

Much of Brazil’s musical reputation rests squarely on the shoulders of Heitor Villa-Lobos, its most famous composer. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887, he found inspiration in the native folk songs he collected as he traveled through his country. Though he spent several years in Paris, he returned to Brazil in 1930, and within two years, took over the musical education system in São Paulo and subsequently became both a national hero and international celebrity. His best-known works merge this multifaceted background, such as the Bachianas brasileiras, a cycle of nine works that equally references the two subjects in the title. As the New York Times’s Bernard Holland eulogized on the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, Villa-Lobos produced “body of music in which European sophistication and native wit and energy compete for supremacy.”

Coincidentally, the 55th anniversary of Villa-Lobos's death will be a theme of the upcoming Chelsea Music Festival.

2. Antônio Carlos Gomes

During the 19th century, few opera composers from the Western Hemisphere enjoyed the success in major European houses that Antônio Carlos Gomes did. Born in 1836 in Campinas, about 60 miles northwest of São Paolo and a quarter Native American, he received his earliest music education from his father, a bandleader. He received a scholarship to study in Italy, where he achieved great success with the opera Il Guarany, a tale of a star-crossed love affair between an indigenous man and the daughter of a Portuguese lord. Meanwhile, excerpts from Il Guarany have become an unofficial national anthem for the country, played daily on television and radio.


3. Nelson Freire, pianist

The pianist Nelson Freire has been one of Brazil’s foremost musical ambassadors and promoters over the past several decades. Spotted as an exceptional talent at a young age—his official biography notes that he had a street named for him when he was 10 years old—Freire has been critically praised for his interpretations of the Romantic repertoire. However, he continues to promote Brazilian composers, including on his 2012 album "Brasileiro." The album features a number of pieces by Villa-Lobos and many works that represent seminal moments in Freire’s career, such as Cláudio Santoro's Toccata, which he played to win the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition in 1957.

4. Paulo Szot, opera singer

Opera heartthrob Paulo Szot first won over New York audiences as the French-speaking expat Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Audience members enchanted by his voice may not have noticed that his exotic accent was Portuguese rather than Francophone. Since then, he’s become a periodic presence at the Metropolitan Opera, and made debuts at the Paris Opera, La Scala and in Rome. In addition to his classical engagements, he’s been performing Brazilian songs alongside Broadway standards at the cabaret venue 54 Below.


5. Guiomar Novaes

The rise to fame of Guiomar Novaes is legendary. Born outside of São Paulo, the 17th of 19 children, she started playing piano at age three. A decade later, she won one of two coveted spots reserved for foreign musicians at the Paris Conservatory, impressing a panel consisting of Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Moritz Moszkowski. Known as the Paderewski of the Pampas, even though she grew up several hundred miles north of the South American plains, she became renowned for her interpretations of Chopin, Schumann and Debussy. New York Times critic Alan Rich called her “a perennial enchantress,” while Harold C. Schonberg wrote in a eulogy following her death in 1979, “The sheer beauty of her playing managed to transcend any considerations; it was its own reward.”

Weigh in: What music would you like to have heard at the World Cup? Leave your comments below.


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Comments [12]

Sergio Raposo de Medeiros from Campo Grande - MS/Brasil

Considering our performance, a good choice would be "Valsa da Dor" (Waltz of sorrow), a beautyfull piece of music!

Jul. 13 2014 12:24 PM
JR from NYC

ANY Brazilian music please! What the heck are JLo and Pitbull doing there? 2 out of 3?
The event should feature an all-Brazilian cast of musicians!
After all, Brazil is most known abroad for soccer AND music! Outrageous

Jun. 11 2014 09:38 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Brazilian Dance by Camargo Guarnieri and Bachianas Brasilieras Number 4 by Villa-Lobos

Jun. 09 2014 09:44 AM
Paul Capon from Thunder Bay, ON

How about Antônio Carlos Jobim? He popularized bossa nova - the mixing of Jazz and Samba - remember "the Girl from the Ipapanma".

Jun. 09 2014 12:01 AM
Jordan Rab from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Just to set the record straight, Villa-Lobos took over the music education system in Rio de Janeiro, not in São Paulo.
Anyhow, let's hope that for the Olympics, should they really occur in Rio, that some or all of the aforementioned quintet will be present in one fashion or other.

Jun. 08 2014 05:38 PM
Keane Southard

I spent last year in Brazil studying Brazilian music, and I discovered so many great composers that are hardly known outside of the country, like Camargo Guarnieri, Francisco Mignone, Jose Siqueira, Marlos Nobre, Claudio Santoro, not to mention all the great popular music. It is so rich in music and so many Brazilian musicians should be given more attention.

Jun. 08 2014 05:58 AM
Yuri Coelho from Fortaleza, Brazil

Thanks for reminding us of this subject. Brazil is a giant of Classical Music. It's sad to see this heritage being neglected by Brazilians. We have many (and great) composers and musicians, like Alberto Nepomuceno, who established the Brazilian lieder and influenced Villa-Lobos. The conductor Eleazar de Carvalho was a teacher to such conductors as Clauddio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Charles Dutoit and Seiji Ozawa. In Opera, Bidu Sayão was one of the greatest lyric sopranos of the 20th Century. She is a reference in roles like Manon, Mélisande, Mimi, Juliette, Susanna, Zerlina and Gilda until nowadays.

Jun. 07 2014 04:05 PM
Vilguemberg Silva from Fortaleza, Brasil

In Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, which will be staged one of the semifinals, 4% of the population of over 2 million people know who was Eleazar de Carvalho, is a lot. He was one of the greatest conductors who had, in his home state, the only memory we had was an orchestra in which he founded and that a lack of government resources in Culture, disbanded and musicians are selling their instruments. It is unfortunate that this situation is spreading all over Brazil.
Congratulations matter! Good to see that our culture is appreciated and known elsewhere.

Jun. 07 2014 03:42 PM

Robert St.Onge, I tried to vote up your comment on Sayao, but the computer is not cooperating. That was a great suggestion for the World Cup. For myself, I prefer any part of the Romeo et Juliette Met broadcast from 1946 with the incomparable Jussi Bjorling.

Jun. 05 2014 09:33 PM
Cecília do Val from São Paulo, Brazil

Still about São Paulo Symphony Orchestra with Paulo Szot: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by Marin Alsop will be broadcasted on July 6, 5:30 pm (Brazil time), live from Sala São Paulo, by Medici.TV (!/marin-alsop-beethoven-symphony-9-osesp).

Jun. 05 2014 04:39 PM
Cecília do Val from São Paulo, Brazil

Sadly, Brazil’s World Cup opening ceremony won’t have any of those Brazilian classical musical icons, but check these series that São Paulo Symphony Orchestra ( will present for the World Cup period, at Sala São Paulo: on June 19, 20 and 21, conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky and cellist Antonio Meneses will be on a special Villa-Lobos program; on June 27, 28 and 29, baritone Paulo Szot is a soloist for Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, conducted by Marin Alsop; and on July 3, 4 and 6, Paulo Szot is a soloist for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, also conducted by Marin Alsop.

Jun. 05 2014 02:50 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

You forgot that most enchanting of lyric sopranos:Bidu Sayao. Villa-Lobos wrote one of his most important - and now one of his most popular - works for her, the 'Bachianas Brasileiras' No 5. They recorded the first movement. Surely that recording could find some place in the ceremonies.

Jun. 05 2014 11:07 AM

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