Puccini's 'favourite butterfly' – Mayo-born Margaret Burke Sheridan.

Mayo biographer to present story of Margaret Burke Sheridan on Lyric FM

In the Lyric FM Feature on Sunday next (June 16), Mayo biographer Anne Chambers 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.

Anne, author of La Sheridan: Adorable Diva, recalls: "The actual reason that propelled me on my journey to find the Diva ... 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 11 and orphaned, she had left Castlebar, a convent boarding school in Eccles Street, Dublin became her substitute home for the following seven years.

“When her school friends returned home for Christmas 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) was ‘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.”

Anne concludes: “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 that was the reason which propelled me on my journey to discover the woman behind that tear.”

Sunday's feature is produced by Michael O'Kane and starts at 6 p.m. on Lyric FM.