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.