Throughout his 89 years, Sábato Magaldi embodied the distinction “man of the theater.” As critic, historian and professor, he was also an intellectual who directly interacted with what was being produced on the stage. Magaldi died July 17, 2016 in São Paulo, as a result of a systemic infection. His ashes were interred at the mausoleum of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL) in Rio de Janeiro.
“Unlike modern reviewers, his generation was very active in the entire theatrical experience, teaching trends, movements and the creative process to students, amateurs and professionals in the theater arts, assimilating Brazilian theater into international theater,” says theater director Cibele Forjaz, a student of Magaldi and professor in the Department of Theatrical Arts of the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP).
Considered one of the three leading theater critics in Brazil, along with Décio de Almeida Prado (1917-2000) and Bárbara Heliodora (1923-2015), Magaldi was born in 1927 in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, where he earned a degree in law. At age 21, he moved to Rio de Janeiro and began publishing theater reviews for the Diário Carioca. In 1953, he relocated to São Paulo to teach at the School of Dramatic Arts (EAD), at the invitation of its founder, Alfredo Mesquita. Three years later, he became an editor of the Suplemento Literário [Literary supplement] of O Estado de S. Paulo, then quite a culturally influential newspaper that carried the writings of intellectuals such as Almeida Prado, Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes and Antonio Candido. Magaldi worked at the supplement until 1969, by then taking on the role of theater critic for the Jornal da Tarde, a position he held from its establishment in 1966 up to 1988.
At EAD, Magaldi was hired to serve as chair of the department of Theater History and in 1962 he established the department of Brazilian Theater. Among his works in book form, the critic wrote Panorama do teatro brasileiro [Overview of Brazilian theater] (1962), still considered a reference in the field, and he organized the plays of Nelson Rodrigues into four volumes according to theme. Magaldi was a friend of the playwright and one of those responsible for making him famous as the founder of modern Brazilian theater. In Panorama, he also reaffirmed and substantiated the importance of the theater of Oswald de Andrade. In 1988, he published Moderna dramaturgia brasileira [Brazilian modern drama], in which he continued his historical work, then moving on to deal with playwrights and more recent shows, such as those by author Plínio Marcos.
“Sábato Magaldi was a pioneer in Brazilian theatrical studies, both in the formation of a body of criticism about modern dramatic production, as well as in the very exercise of critical thought,” says Luiz Fernando Ramos, also a professor da ECA-USP. “He exercised everyday activism in newspapers and published a wide range of essays and analyses, including some that addressed his own criticism.” One controversy in which Magaldi engaged through the pages of newspapers was with theater director José Celso Martinez Correa as a result of his 1972 review of the production Gracias, señor [Thank you sir].
Magaldi earned his PhD at the USP School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH) in 1972, where he defended his dissertation on Oswald de Andrade. In 1983, he became an associate professor at the USP School of Communication and Arts (ECA-USP), lecturing on the theater of Nelson Rodrigues. From 1985 to 1987, he taught at the University of Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle). In 1988, he became a full professor of Brazilian Theater in the Department of Theater Arts. From 1989 to 1991, he gave classes at the Aix-en-Provence University in France. From 1975 to 1979, he was the first municipal secretary of culture for the city of São Paulo, in the administration of appointed Mayor Olavo Setúbal.
Since 1995, the critic held chair 24 of the ABL. He leaves behind nearly 50 handwritten notebooks, replete with annotations about the Brazilian theater he knew over the course of his career as a critic. His recommendation to his wife, writer Edla van Steen, had been that it be published only 30 years after his death.