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  • Camões in Brazil: Operetta and Portuguese Culture in Rio de Janeiro, circa 1880
  • Luísa Cymbron (bio)
    Translated by Susan R. Thomas

In 1880 Portugal and Brazil celebrated the tercentenary of the death of Luís de Camões (c. 1524–1580), the sixteenth-century Portuguese poet who is well known for his poem Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), where he narrates the epic of Portuguese discoveries, and also for his lyric poetry and in particular his sonnets, most of them on love themes and written under the influence of Petrarchism. Camões’s achievements marked a high moment for Portuguese culture, and although there were different ideological undertones and distinct political objectives on both sides of the Atlantic, the 1880 celebrations insisted on the exaltation of the poet as an icon of national heritage, projecting a broader ideal of brotherhood between the two countries. In Rio de Janeiro the Revista illustrada humorously described what had happened in the city:

This week never had its own story: it was devoted to leisure and rest, and the little that it lived, it lived from the festive life of the other, as the true parasite that it was. Everyone felt tired from so much partying, and they put aside their enthusiasm and their tailcoats, to stay at home and ruminate about Camões’s centenary, to stretch, reading the commemorative supplements of the daily papers, yawning and finally sleeping. . . . We have a shorter endurance than that of the Creator: God only rested after a week’s work; we stretch, half awake, on the fourth day of celebrations and enthusiasm. And I must confess that I have never seen so much resistance, so much activity, or so much thirst for festivities, in Rio de Janeiro, in honor of a man who cannot even thank us.

Esta semana não teve história própria: foi consagrada ao ócio e ao descanso, e o pouco que viveu, viveu-o da vida festiva da outra, como verdadeira parasita que foi. Cada um achou-se cansado de tanta festa, e guardou o seu entusiasmo e a sua casaca, para ficar em casa e resmoer o centenário de Camões, a estirar-se, lendo os suplementos comemorativos das folhas diárias, bocejando e finalmente dormindo. . . . Nós temos o fôlego mais curto do que o fôlego do Criador: Deus só descansou depois de uma semana de trabalho; nós espreguiçamo-nos, estremunhados, ao quarto dia de festejos e de entusiasmo. E, eu confesso, nunca vi tanta resistência, tanta atividade, nem [End Page 330] tamanha sede de festas, no Rio de Janeiro, em homenagem a um homem que nem sequer nos pode agradecer.1

Sometime earlier, at the end of 1878, the Portuguese violinist and composer Francisco de Sá Noronha (1820–1881) had arrived in Rio for what was to be his last Brazilian stay, after a long career that had involved traveling several times between Portugal and Brazil. In an attempt to integrate the animated theatrical life of the imperial capital, he joined the young Brazilian playwright Artur Azevedo (1855–1908) in composing operettas, which were particularly in vogue by then. This collaboration resulted in three works that were all premiered in 1880 in the small Fênix Dramática theater: A princesa dos cajueiros, a political and social satire of current life (in a clear Brazilian adaptation of the Offenbachian model); Os noivos, a comedy of manners on a Brazilian theme; and O califa da rua do Sabão, an adaptation of a French comedy mêlée de couplets.

Starting from the Camões tercentenary, this article aims to analyze, by means of these operettas, the impact of Portuguese culture in Rio de Janeiro’s theatrical life. Building upon the work of Cristina Magaldi and theatrical historians Fernando Mencarelli and Sílvia Souza, my intention is to understand how a dramaturgy that was typical of light theatrical genres such as the operetta, which incorporated a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints,2 reflected the tercentenary and inserted it within different contexts. I also explore the kinds of dialogues that were established between this repertory and its protagonists, as well as...


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