Maggie from Mayo Puccini's Favourite Butterfly |The Lyric Feature


In the ★Lyric FM Feature on Sunday 16 June at 6pm★ biographer Anne Chambers, author of 'La Sheridan: Adorable Diva’ presents the life story of Ireland’s great Diva, Margaret Burke Sheridan – Maggie from Mayo’ and her connection with the great Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini, whose centenary occurs this year.

In adulthood my interest and knowledge of opera was confined to the more ‘easy listening’ popular arias and duets. Consequently I suggested to the Committee that they might approach someone with a more professional knowledge of the genre. With just two years to write that ‘something’ there were un-surprisingly no takers and so, somewhat reluctantly, I agreed.

The actual reason that propelled me on my journey to find the Diva, as it turned out, was not the dulcet tone of her voice, or the unique interpretation she brought to her many operatic roles, but rather her mischievous, at times childish, sense of humour. This characteristic was highlighted in a collection of essays I found, written by her friends, following her death in 1958.
Humour, as I subsequently found out, however, had served another purpose. For Margaret Burke Sheridan it had become a shield against the awful sense of loneliness that marked her personal life. From the day, aged eleven and orphaned, she had left Castlebar, a convent boarding school in Eccles St, Dublin became her substitute home for the following seven year. When her school friends returned home for Xmas and summer holidays, Margaret had simply nowhere to go which made sense of her later pithy remark: ‘There’s nowhere like home when you haven’t got one’. Throughout her artistic career in Italy and in England, from hotel room to hotel room, from one rented flat to another, as I subsequently discovered, she was never to experience home life and resulted in the devastating sense of impermanency that shadowed her life lived like the proverbial butterfly.

This singular trait, however, also contributed to what one Italian opera critic later told me (and which is evident from her recordings) ‘the distinctive timbre and particular expressiveness’ of her voice which made her stand out in the 1920s in what was an artistically high and competitive period in the history of opera.

As Giacomo Puccini himself attested, on attending her performance Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly in Milan in 1919 – ‘Margarita sings with a tear in her voice’ and so was the reason which propelled me on my journey to discover… the woman behind that tear.

Anne Chambers


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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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