seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Opera Singer Margaret Burke Sheridan

Irish opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan is born in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 15, 1889. She is known as Maggie from Mayo and is regarded as Ireland’s second prima donna, after Catherine Hayes (1818–1861).

Sheridan has her early vocal training while at school at the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street, Dublin, with additional lessons from Vincent O’Brien. In 1908, she wins a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil. From 1909 to 1911 she studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, during which time she is introduced to the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who is instrumental in arranging further studies for her in opera in Rome.

With Marconi’s help Sheridan auditions in 1916 for Alfredo Martino, a prominent singing teacher attached to the Teatro Costanzi, and she makes her début there in January 1918 in Giacomo Puccini‘s La bohème. In July 1919 she appears at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the title role in Iris by Pietro Mascagni.

Sheridan returns to Italy, where her career continues to grow, with performances at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, primarily in Puccini roles. In 1922 she first sings at La Scala, Milan, in La Wally by Alfredo Catalani under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. For the next few years she sings at La Scala with great success. Perhaps her greatest role is Madama Butterfly, which she sings extensively in Italy and at Covent Garden. When she plays the part of Madama Butterfly, Puccini is said to be spellbound.

Despite her successes, Sheridan’s career is short. Suffering vocal difficulties she goes into retirement around 1930 except for a few concerts. Bríd Mahon, in her 1998 book While Green Grass Grows, states that “It was rumoured that an Italian whose overtures she had rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala, Milan, while she was on stage and that after the tragedy she never sang in public again.”

Margaret Sheridan dies in relative obscurity on April 16, 1958, having lived in Dublin for many years, and her remains are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Tenor John McCormack

john-mccormackJohn McCormack, an Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires and renowned for his diction and breath control, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on June 14, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and later attends Summerhill College in Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peters church in Athlone under choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by composer Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. In 1906, he makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

In less than three years he is singing opera in the United States, as well as beginning a career on the recital stage that makes him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1917 he becomes a citizen of the United States, his adopted country, where his concert appeal has proven to be nearly universal and unrelenting.

McCormack originally ends his career in 1938 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. However, one year after that farewell concert he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He concertizes, tours, broadcasts, and records in this capacity until 1943 when failing health forced him to permanently retire.

Ill with emphysema, he purchases a house near the sea at Booterstown, County Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, just south of Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack dies on September 16, 1945. He is mourned by his countrymen, his English public who had taken him to their hearts as well, a vast number of his fellow citizens in the United States, and music lovers all over the world. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.