Though heralded as the grand dame of the Brazilian theater, actress, singer and director Bibi Ferreira is probably best known for her highly popular take on the work of tragic French singer Edith Piaf, whose music she has been singing since she staged "Piaf, The Life of A Star of The Song" in 1983 (which was on tour for over six years) and later a CD dedicated to the French legend's music.
Earlier this year at 90 years of age, Ms. Ferreira finally had her New York debut with Bibi Ferreira in Concert, a show that featured a mix of music by Chico Buarque, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ary Barroso , songs from musical theater and of course Piaf. The show was very well received, and featured an impromptu appearance by Liza Minnelli, who was in the audience and came on stage to sing a snippet of New York, New York in duet with Ferreira.
After the success of that show, she is returning to the New York stage to once again revisit the songs of Edith Piaf backed by her 20-piece orchestra. We caught up with her over a phone interview as she prepared for a performance in Salvador, Bahia.
How was the experience of that first US performance?
I felt a lot of anxiety and fear, to be performing in New York, where some of the greatest artists of all time have appeared. I was very concerned, and I prepared myself with a lot of respect and also a lot of happiness, which I am also taking with me to return to New York on November 13th.
This time you are bringing the Piaf show, correct?
Yes, it is "The Life of a Star of the Song," – I perform the best songs from the repertoire of Edith Piaf, and at the same time I tell her life story.
You pretty much single-handedly revived interest in Piaf in Brazil…
I cannot fully take credit for that – many people have sung Piaf for years, but they did not really go deep into the music. I do a full show with her music and life. I am very grateful because I received the highest honor an artist can receive in that country. When I saw that the great dancer Nureyev received the same award that I did, I was very proud. I love and embrace France, its artists, composers – including the eternal voice of Piaf.
What is the structure of the show, since many in the US have not seen it?
You might not know the show, of course, but I am sure you are well aware of Edith Piaf. I have a huge responsibility, because after all I am a Brazilian who is singing the work of a French artist in the USA – it makes things quite complicated (laughs) – anyway, we are well prepared for whatever might happen. I am aware that fans are looking forward to it even though I'd like to bring a truly Brazilian show – let's hope this happens in the future.
At the end of your New York show, Liza Minnelli showed up – it was a very interesting moment. Was that at all planned?
No, that was completely spontaneous. Right before I came on stage, I didn't even know that she would be in attendance. When they told me, I was really surprised. At the end of the show, she stood up and came towards the stage – at first she couldn't get on because it was too high for her, she went to stage left and the doors were closed. It took a long time until she was able to come up and give me a hug, and then we sung a snippet of "New York, New York" together.
That was actually hilarious, seeing Minnelli walking all over, trying to get on stage…
Yes, that was funny (laughs). The doors were locked and she was unable to come up at first. So when they finally opened the access doors to the stage and she came up. That was how I finally met Liza for the very first time and we shared a great hug. I knew her mother (Judy Garland), so when I hugged her it felt like I was also embracing the entire great American singer – that was a great, unforgettable moment.
Speaking of great singers, who influenced your musical career, the most?
The greatest influence is certainly my music, the music of Brazil – great composers like Ary Barroso, who is very well known in America – one of his most famous songs, "Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolors of Brazil") is almost like a second national anthem to us.
What about American singers? Did they inform you in any way?
Well, I do not consider myself a singer, so there are singers I admire more as a fan, not a reference. The first time I sang on stage in my career was when I did the Piaf play – I see myself as an actor (laughs). Judy Garland was a great influence in my life because I wanted to be like her – to be able to sing those songs with those great orchestras in Hollywood and have a wonderful daughter like Liza. I did succeed that here in Brazil - I am speaking to you from this wonderful city of Salvador (Bahia), and I will be singing with the Bahia Symphony Orchestra, which is one of the best in the world. I am very happy with that.
Would you like to send a message to your fans in the US who are expecting you here?
I hope that the fans enjoy the show, and I come with lots of respect towards American audiences. Let's see what happens then. I hope all goes well, because from my side I am a professional, and the American fans are among the greatest – they welcome the greatest artists in the world, and I hope to be among them and give a show that will fulfill their expectations.
Bibi Ferreira appears at Town Hall, 123 W 43rd St. Wednesday, November 13 at 8 PM. Tickets are $ 40-70. For tickets call 800-982-2787 visit http://thetownhall.org
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.