Margaret Sheridan

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An Irish soprano whose pluck and warm, yet keen-edged soprano appealed greatly to Italian audiences, Margaret Sheridan enjoyed a meteoric rise in Italy during the 1920s. Her recordings document both the…
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An Irish soprano whose pluck and warm, yet keen-edged soprano appealed greatly to Italian audiences, Margaret Sheridan enjoyed a meteoric rise in Italy during the 1920s. Her recordings document both the lyric softness that informed her singing of more intimate moments and the pungency and bite she brought to more dramatic ones. Although she was urged to perform elsewhere, she largely confined her career to Italy and England. The onset of various physical difficulties dictated her early retirement after a short, but spectacular prime. Orphaned when she was only four, Sheridan received her early education at the Dominican Convent on Dublin's Eccles Street. Upon being announced as winner of the Feis Cheoil in 1908, the soprano was given the proceeds from a benefit concert, allowing her to enter London's Royal Academy of Music where she began her vocal studies with William Shakespeare and later with Olga Lewenthal. In 1916, arrangements were made for her to travel to Italy to train under the guidance of Alfredo Martino in Rome. After two year's time, the promising young singer was deemed ready and made her debut at the Rome Opera performing Mimi in Puccini's La bohème, a role that would join several others as a signature part during her career. In 1919, the same role served to introduce her to Covent Garden in a May 27 performance of La bohème. A.P. Hatton, the "Figaro" of musical opinion found the soprano "a singer of grace and charm with an engagingly fresh and supple voice...." Sheridan was announced for Madama Butterfly for May 24, but the rest of the Italian cast had not arrived in time and Sir Thomas Beecham's English company was put on-stage instead. For her first season, Sheridan also sang the title role in Mascagni's Iris, being presented for the first time in the house. Although reviews for the production and the opera itself were tepid at best, Sheridan's singing and interpretation met with high praise. Six years were to pass before Sheridan returned to London, but in the meantime, her career expanded greatly in Italy. There, she matched the leading spinto sopranos of the day in temperament while offering a substantially tidier vocal presence. She sang at most of Italy's major opera theaters, including La Scala, creating an especially powerful impression with her Cio-Cio-San. Sheridan returned to London in a June 17, 1925, performance of Madama Butterfly, for which she wore the costumes of Rosina Storchio, Puccini's original Cio-Cio-San. The Times reported "she sang the music finely and her whole treatment of the part grew in dramatic interest as the opera progressed." Two other critics, Francis Toye (Express) and Richard Capell of The Mail, however, complained of various deficiencies common to Italian-schooled artists, particularly too-forward placement and excessive vibrato. Sheridan also sang Maddalena de Coigny to substantial success, but the production was marred for some by the over-emphatic singing of the Chenier, tenor Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. When Sheridan sang her Maddalena in London, again in 1930, it was with Beniamino Gigli, whose singing of the title role was much preferred. Sheridan retired when in her early forties, the victim, it was said, of vocal problems and assorted other ailments. In latter years, she assumed the name Burke Sheridan. The soprano left several memorable recordings, among them duets with tenor Aureliano Pertile from Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, and Andre Chénier, impassioned and vocally resplendent.