‘You cannot speak of Puccini from an international point of view without reference to Margherita Sheridan who in my opinion…is one of the greatest interpreters of Puccini’s work.’
Dott. Giorgio Gualerzi, Milan 1989

In this the 100th anniversary year of the death of the famous Italian composer and her own anniversary which occurs on 16 April, the words of one of Italy’s most eminent operatic critics above confirmed the composer’s own tribute to Margaret Burke Sheridan who, as Puccini’s daughter revealed, considered this Irish diva ‘the outstanding Butterfly of all time’.

‘Discovered’ by Guglielmo Marconi while singing at a fashionable soiree in London, the famous inventor subsequently brought Sheridan to Italy, to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. A dramatic and critically acclaimed debut as Mimi in La Boheme at the Rome opera house in February 1918 lead her to the Dal Verme Theatre in Milan to take on the role of Madama Butterfly.

Drawn by the reviews Puccini came to hear this ‘foreign’ Butterfly whose performance he described as being ‘full of charismatic intensity and childlike appeal’ and decided to coach her for the title role in his opera Manon Lescaut. For her debut in the prestigious carnival season at Rimini, Puccini presented Sheridan with a magnificent gold and blue silk gown for Act 2 (see photo). He came to hear her later performance at Cento, afterwards driving in triumph with her in an open carriage through the town.

The bronze bust statue, which now adorns a stairway wall in the National Concert Hall, was presented to her by the San Carlo Opera House in Naples in 1921 and bears the inscription ‘A Margherita Sheridan, Butterfly Insuperabile.’

‘She was an unparalled interpreter of the music of Puccini,’ the conducter Vincenzo Bellizza, recorded. ‘The humanity of his characters and the lyricism of his music found a mysterious echo in her.’ Sheridan was subsequently chosen to make the very first electrical recording (HMV) of the full Madama Butterfly. Following Puccini’s death in 1924 she was in demand for the many commemorative performances of the composer’s work throughout Italy.

During the course of my travels and research for her biography throughout Italy, where from 1918 to 1931 Sheridan became one of the leading operatic stars of the period, I interviewed many from the world of opera who knew or remembered her, both personally and professionally.

An interview with the famous soprano, Renata Tebaldi, was indicative of the impact made by this Irish soprano on Italian opera and particularly on the works of Puccini. As Tebaldi recounted, it was to Sheridan’s Puccini recordings, then considered definitive, which she personally studied during the course of her own operatic training and, as she further noted, ‘Sheridan was a superb actress combining great artistry with remarkable technique.’

Something that Giacomo Puccini himself had previously discovered and applauded five decades earlier but sadly, in this his centenary year seems likely to be ignored by music authorities in Sheridan’s native country.

Anne Chambers
Author: La Sheridan: Adorable Diva (1889-1958).

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Fearless leader by land and by sea, political pragmatist and tactician, rebel, pirate and matriarch, the ’most notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland’ GRACE O’MALLEY challenges and manipulates the turbulent politics of the 16th century

Grace O'Malley: The Biography of Ireland's Pirate Queen, 1530-1603 is the sole published biographical account of Grace O’Malley, sourced from original manuscript material, both in public and in private domain. For the latter, the author, Anne Chambers, had sole and exclusive access. Much of this material was located and decyphered in its original form (i.e.16th century manuscripts) by the author and is exclusive to her book. Furthermore, the presentation, opinions and analyses in the book are exclusive to the author. The author reserves all her rights in this book. No part of her book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or media, written or oral, or by means digital, electronic or mechanical, including photographic, film, video recording, photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system. Permission from the author and publisher must first be obtained to reproduce any part of or quotations from the book. Any transgression in this regard will be addressed. For more information, comments or enquiries please contact: Info: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Copyright © 2022.


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