Eva Sopher is the first known cultural entrepreneur in southern Brazil. Considered part of the history of theater-related cultural activities in Brazil and elsewhere, she has worked in this field for over forty years in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul.
Eva Margarete Plaut, daughter of Max (1889–1975), a banker, and Marie (1894–1980), a homemaker, was born in Frankfurt/M Germany in 1923. She had an older sister, Lieselotte (1920–2000). Her early years were happy and carefree, but Nazism obliged the family to emigrate to São Paulo, Brazil in 1937. The family’s story was similar to that of countless Jews who faced the problems of an unknown country and a new language. Eva attended public school, learned Portuguese and continued to pursue her artistic talents, taking courses in drawing and sculpture. When she was sixteen, financial need compelled her to take a job at an arts and crafts store and art gallery whose owner, at his own expense, had founded a public, non-profit organization, PROARTE, to sponsor artistic activities. While working at Casa e Jardim (House and Garden) Eva met well-known intellectuals and artists, an experience that helped develop her artistic sense. In 1943 she moved to Rio de Janeiro where she continued to seek art and culture. In 1946 she met and married Wolfgang Klaus Sopher (1918–1987), also a German immigrant, the son of the sculptor Bernhard Sopher (1879–1949), born in Safed, Palestine, who during their life together always enthusiastically supported his wife’s activities. In Rio de Janeiro, Eva replaced her previous activity, artistic bookbinding, with plant and flower arranging, creating miniature gardens for sale. In Rio she continued to collaborate with PROARTE, and the couple’s move to Porto Alegre with their daughters Renata (b. 1948) and Ruth (b. 1949) in 1960 led to ever deeper involvement in culture, always as a representative of PROARTE. She promoted programs, flooding the city with concerts by famous international orchestras, virtuoso soloists, theater seasons, international choirs and dance companies. The PROARTE seasons were significant in the cultural life of Porto Alegre, performances usually taking place at the traditional Teatro São Pedro. Foreign artists began to include Porto Alegre in their itinerary as a major cultural center.
Eva Sopher’s success at PROARTE led to an invitation from the State Government to renovate Teatro São Pedro, a task that took nine years. For a while she combined her activities at PROARTE with the theater, but eventually, overwhelmed with work, she chose the latter.
Inaugurated in 1858, the Theater had already undergone renovations superposing architectural styles, but was again very rundown. Its reopening in 1984 was an event that Sopher considers the most significant in her life. The Theater is still under her management and she intends to build a large annex with a cultural center.
Sopher’s cultural work, which began with PROARTE and continued with the Theater, has been acclaimed by both the local and the international artistic communities, as is evidenced by the Brazilian and foreign awards, titles and medals she has received. In 1978 she was awarded the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government and in 1994 she received the German Grand Cross of Merit from Roman Herzog, the President of Germany. She is an advisor to Brazilian theaters and a board member of cultural organizations.
The interest of the local and national magazines and newspapers in Eva herself as well as in her cultural activities demonstrates how important her work is not only for Porto Alegre but also for the entire country.
In testimonies and interviews, Eva Sopher refers to significant moments in her life. A major issue is her dual identity. Banned from Germany, she planted new roots in the country that received her. She feels uncomfortable at being considered German and sees herself as a Brazilian and Jew. In 1971 she received the title of honorary citizen of the city of Porto Alegre, which confirmed her choice of a new nationality.
Another significant moment in her life was the PROARTE concert for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Brazilian independence in September 1972, at which the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performed two days after the attack on the Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics. This milestone symbolizes the root that was not torn out of her—her Judaism.
Moving with ease between the scholarly and the popular, Eva Sopher is proud of having been honored by Samba School in Porto Alegre during Carnival 1985, since it showed her integration into the society that received her, absorbing her culture and her way of life. With a storyline based on the history of the City Theater and its director, the performance showed how society at large acknowledged what Sopher represents socially and culturally.
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