Severa(26 July, 1820 - 30 November, 1846)
Through her birth record, dated 12 September 1820, from the Parish of Anjos, we register the birthday of Maria Severa Onofriana on the 26 July 1820, daughter of Severo Manuel de Sousa, from S. Nicolau, Santarém, and Ana Gertrudes, born in Portalegre. The couple had married on the 27 April 1815, at the Parish of Santa Cruz da Prideira de Santarém.
Severa died very young. Her death certificate indicates her death on the 30 November 1846, at Rua do Capelão, apoplectic and without being administered the sacraments, at 26 years old and single. The fado singer was buried in Alto de S. João Cemitery.
Besides this, not much is proven about the singer’s life, since most information comes from the scarce oral reports of her contemporary’s, such as Luís Augusto Palmeirim, Miguel Queriol and Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato.
The poet Bulhão Pato, who met her personally, left the following statement regarding her personality: “the poor girl was a very interesting fado singer, as Mouraria will never have again!... Another proud and impetuous Severa, as generous as ready to slap anyone who mistreated her, will not be easy to find! Brave, full of affection for those she loved, she was also rude to her enemies. It was not an ordinary woman, that is for sure.” (cf. Júlio de Sousa e Costa, "Severa").
In turn, Luís Augusto Palmeirim confesses he saw and spoke to Severa only once, but that “was enough to never forget the slender girl with fire in her eyes, a moaning and loud voice, but despite these apparent seductions, rude and spontaneous manners, which warned those who spoke to her to stay out of reach «of a change in luck»”.
Having visited her in the home she then lived in, at Bairro Alto, he later described this visit in his book "Os excêntricos do meu tempo": “When I entered Severa’s home, a modest home of the common type her miserable colleagues lived in, she was smoking, lying on a straw canapé, wearing polishing slippers with red dots, a silk scarf with branch motifs in her head and her dress’ sleeves rolled up.
She was a brunette, thin, nervous and remarkable for her magnificent peninsular eyes. On top of a gaming table there was a Portuguese guitar, inseparable companion of her triumphs; and hanging on the wall (a common sacrilege in this sort of home), a terrible print of Senhor dos Passos da Graça!"
Miguel Queriol reports a nocturnal visit by a bohemian group to the Palace do Count Vimioso, where Severa sang the Fado accompanied on the guitar by Roberto Camelo. In an article published in the newspaper "O Popular" he reported the following: “If I do recall, she was a slender girl, pretty, dark and thick hair, at ease, but without failing to respect those who did her right, wearing clean but modest cloths, without reminding us the disgrace of the class she was thrown to, not as much by vice, but misery. Her shyness made her look unsatisfied before the social circle she faced.”
Maria Severa Onofriana was known as "Severa", and became the icon of the first fado singer due to her loves and the fados she played, sang and danced in Mouraria.
Severa’s performing venues are not yet identified, but are thought to be related with the prostitution circuits, mainly in Bairro Alto and Mouraria.
Severa also performed in aristocratic parties due to her relationship with the Count Vimioso, a description found in Miguel Queriol’s report in the newspaper "O Popular", where he reports Severa’s show in the count’s palace.
Eduardo Sucena says “one of the places commonly visited by the singing prostitute, and where she met the Count Vimioso personally—was the tavern of Rosária dos "Óculos", at the top of Rua do Capelão, in the building known as "house of stone ". there, she sang and disputed fado, accompanied on the guitar by Joaquim Lucas, a cashier in another tavern at Rua dos Cavaleiros".
The same author states the tavern of Manuel Jerónimo, the "Cegueta", and "Manhoso", located on the same Rua do Capelão, and Café da Bola, at Rua de S. Vicente à Guia, as places where Severa’s presence was usual.
To these places, he adds the café of the former moço de forcado Joaquim Silva, at Rua do Saco, near the bullfight arena of Campo de Santana, where the Count Vimioso joined the fans and practitioners of the bullfighting art. (cf. Eduardo Sucena, "Lisboa, o Fado e os Fadistas").
Severa’s popularity was largely due to her amorous relationship with the Count Vimioso, D. Francisco de Paula Portugal e Castro, which gave her celebrity status and naturally gave Severa a greater prestige and opportunities to perform before an audience composed by young people of the social and intellectual Portuguese elite.
After her death, the “mezzo soprano of the vice conservatories”, as Pinto de Carvalho called her, gained rising fame, so far unheard of in these popular circles, becoming mentioned in fado lyrics, novels and even in the movies. This popularity is well stated in "Fado da Severa", catalogued by Teófilo Braga in the "Cancioneiro Popular" of 1867, as having been written by Sousa do Casacão and dating from 1848, from which we quote a few verses:
The mystery aura which makes Severa the most mythological figure in the fado singing universe lasts until today. It is the result of the lack of details on her life, as well as the absence of a portrait able to perpetuate her image undoubtedly.
This image has such great importance that the newspaper "Canção do Sul" of the 1 September 1939 showed a picture in its first page, claiming it to be the portrait of Severa.
This picture was in fact an illustrated postcard reproduction of Acácia Reis (Severa) and Rosa d’ Oliveira (Rosa Engeitada), in the vaudeville play "Na ponta da Unha", presented in the theatre of Rua dos Condes, in 1902, as denounced by the newspaper "Guitarra de Portugal" on the 10 September 1939.
In 1901 Júlio Dantas writes the novel "A Severa", changing many aspects oh what may be considered the historic truth, and transforming the Count Vimioso in «Count Marialva», giving gipsy origins to Severa, and building a dramatic script according to the time’s romantic taste based on "The Lady of the Camellias " by Alexandre Dumas.
A play by the same author premieres on the 25 January 1901, at Teatro D. Amélia (future Teatro São Luiz), with Ângela Pinto starring as Severa. This play becomes such a success that it was adapted to an opereta with the same title by André Brun in 1909. Júlia Mendes starred in that show.
Remaining a very popular theme and greatly accepted by the audience, the show was restaged starring renowned leading ladies. We highlight the staging by Vasco Morgado’s company, premiered on the 8 de March 1955, at Teatro Monumental, where Amália Rodrigues played the role of Severa.
Júlio Dantas’ work would later be adapted to movies by Leitão de Barros, who directs the first sound film in 1931, also named “A Severa". The movie premiered at São Luiz, in a national event environment, on the 18 June 1931, and stayed on for over 6 months; it was seen by over 200.000 spectators.
The movie’s soundtrack includes "Novo Fado da Severa" (Rua do Capelão) with lyrics by Júlio Dantas and music by Frederico de Freitas, whose popularity transcended the silver screen.
Despite the evident lack of detailed biographic data about Severa’s life and artistic pathway, it is granted it represents a population group of 20th century’s Lisbon Fado is related to, characterized by the description of the fado singer outcast by the law, the social role of “bump” and “pimp”, in the case of men, and prostitution in the case of women.
In Mouraria, at Rua do Capelão, we may find the Largo da Severa, where the fado singer’s home is marked by the indication “Casa da Severa”; on the street’s floor, in “Portuguese calçada” style, we may see the drawing of a guitar. The house’s front has a plaque saying: “In this house lived Maria Severa Onofriana/ considered at the time the sublime expression of Fado/ She died on the 30 November 1846, at 26 years old/ Lisbon 3-6-89”.
This plaque was inaugurated by Amália Rodrigues, at the same time as the one dedicated to Fernando Maurício.
Marriage register of Manuel Severo and Ana Gertrudes, Freguesia de Santa Cruz, council of Santarém, 1815;
Baptism register of Maria Severa Onofriana, Freguesia dos Anjos, council of Lisbon, 1820;
Death register of Maria Severa Onofriana, Freguesia do Socorro, council of Lisbon, 1846 – Death book of the Parish of Socorro.
Almeida, Amaro (1945), «De Que Morreu a Severa», in "Olissipo", Ano VIII, N.º 30, pp.100-107, Lisboa;
Carvalho, Pinto de (1903), "História do Fado", Lisboa, Publicações D. Quixote;
Costa, Júlio de Sousa e (1936), "Severa", Lisboa, 1.ª Edição, Bertrand;
Dantas, Júlio (1901)," A Severa: romance original";
Palmeirim, Luís Augusto (1891), "Os Excêntricos do Meu Tempo", Lisboa, M. Gomes;
Pimentel, Alberto (1904), "A Triste Canção do Sul: Subsídios para a História do Fado", Lisboa, Publicações Dom Quixote;
Queriol, Miguel (1901), jornal «O Popular», 7/8-4-1901;
José Galhardo Fernanda Maria, Maria Severa (José Galhardo / Raul Ferrão)