By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.
One of the records to which I come back time and again is Fado Antigo (Valentim de Carvalho, 1972), a magnificent compilation of Maria Teresa de Noronha’s most memorable fados with accompaniment provided by legendary musicians such as Raul Nery and António Chainho (Portuguese guitar), Joaquim do Vale (guitar), and Joel Pina (bass guitar). The disc is rather short, at merely twelve tracks, but it offers a perfect portrait of de Noronha’s artistry and inimitable style of fado singing. Her voice is a perfectly tuned instrument, utterly expressive and filled with emotion, and her performances always come across as intelligent, well-crafted works of art.
De Noronha was extremely concerned with the poetic quality of her song lyrics, which needed to suit her mood and personality, and therefore, she not only selected compositions from great fado poets like António de Bragança and Fernando Caldeira, but she also penned some of her own. And Fado Antigo contains beautiful examples of this. In her voice, fado may become a suitable way to escape pain and melancholy: “When sometimes I feel overwhelmed / By the thorn of saudade / Pinned on the past / I sing, and though not on purpose, / My life I entwine / On the strings of a guitar” (“Choro Cantando”). Or her voice may express the paradoxes of unrequited love: “I like you when you lie / And say that you love me / For what you truly feel / Is scorn, and that is much worse” (“Gosto de Ti Quando Mentes”). And sometimes her voice teaches us lessons in life, enticing us to scratch the surface of mere appearance and take a look at the complexity of human feelings: “Let laughter not be the measure / Of people’s happiness / For sometimes laughter hides / The sadness that people feel” (“Nosso Fado”).
Maria Teresa de Noronha is a twentieth-century example of fado’s breach of social class, which can be traced back to the story of the illicit love affair between the Count of Vimioso and Maria Severa in the 1840s. Born Maria Teresa do Carmo de Noronha into an aristocratic family in Lisbon in 1918, she became Countess of Sabrosa through her marriage to Count José António Barbosa de Guimarães Serôdio in 1947. Fado ran in the family: some of her ancestors were notable fado performers, and her husband was an accomplished guitarist and songwriter. She began singing for family and friends at a very tender age, but her first professional appearance did not occur until the late 1930s, when she started a weekly live radio show that stayed on the air for 23 years. Luís Pepe very accurately describes the experience of attending one of her performances: “Listening to Maria Teresa is just like being transported to a region pervaded by spirituality . . . because she does not actually sing; she feels and gives us a glimpse of her soul the way it really is” (1).
In spite of her success in Portugal and abroad, by the early 1960s, de Noronha had gone into retirement, perhaps because of her duties as an aristocrat, which prevented her from having as much public exposure as a singer as other fadistas. However, she still performed at home for family and friends and made some great recordings, and in 1964, she agreed to sing at a party hosted by the Anglo-Portuguese Society in London. Her short trip to England also yielded a historical appearance on the BBC, which gives us an idea of the extent of her popularity.
Maria Teresa de Noronha passed away in 1993, but her invaluable legacy lives on in the outstanding recordings that she made and in the many lyrics that she wrote. She remains the foremost exponent of the so-called aristocratic fado, a style deeply rooted in classic, traditional sounds, and her very personal approach to fado singing oozes class and elegance. She treated fados as lyric poems written in a simple, profoundly expressive language. Alfredo Marceneiro once stated that the ability to speak out the words of a fado song was far more important than the singer’s voice. De Noronha certainly had that ability, and her voice was rich and versatile: she understood the most hidden meanings of the lyrics she sang, and with perfect diction, she always knew how to accentuate those words that were essential to emphasize the multi-layered emotions that are present in fado. Fortunately, records such as Fado Antigo, reissued on CD in 2007, enable us to enjoy the art of one of the best fadistas of the twentieth century.
Link: For more information on Maria Teresa de Noronha in Portuguese and to view a video of one of her recordings, click on Fadocravo - Maria Teresa de Noronha: Mataram A Mouraria.
(1) Luís Pepe. Fado, Mulheres e Toiros. Lisbon: Livraria Francisco Franco, 1945: 44-45.
UPDATE ON FEBRUARY 15, 2011
A few months back, one of our readers asked me to translate the lyrics of the "Fado das horas" ("Fado of the hours"), written by D. António de Bragança, into English. I apologize for the delay in answering this request, but at long last here is the translation:
"Fado of the Hours"
I used to cry because I didn't see you
Now I cry because I see you
But I actually cry because I want
To see you all the time.
Time goes by in a flash
When you speak I listen
All through the hours of our lives
Each hour lasts but a minute.
When you are near me
I feel that I am the ruler of the world
But time is so terrible
Each hour lasts but a second.
Stay by my side
And don't ever leave me again
That way my poor heart
Will live at least for an hour.