February 17, 2022

#ThrowbackThursday – 17 February

From the death of a Native American icon to a monumental battle between man and machine, take a look at these five events that went down in history on 17 February:

1904 – “Madama Butterfly” Bombs at the Opera

For the first time in history, Giacomo Puccini’s greatest opera made its first and last performance. That’s to say, the first version did.

“Madama Butterfly” – based on the play “Madame Butterfly”, which tells the story of an American sailor who abandons his young Japanese lover in favour of marrying somebody else – debutted at the La Scala theatre in Milan, Italy.

However, whether it was its foreign setting or because it was too similar to Puccini’s other works, audiences reacted negatively to the two-act performance; apparently, they hissed and booed the stage down. Suffice to say, Puccini quickly went to work on revising “Madama Butterfly”, notably splitting the 90-minute second act into two.

Four months later, “Madama Butterfly” premiered (again), this time at the Teatro Grande in Brescia, where it was received with acclaim from the audience. Today, it’s one of the most performed operas in the world, so it’s quite difficult to imagine what would have happened if Puccini dropped the opera altogether after its disastrous first showing.

1909 – Down Goes Geronimo

Today marks the 113th anniversary of the death of a revered Native American leader.

Geronimo was the leader of the Chiricahua Apache who resisted white colonisation of their homeland in the Southwest, participating in raids into Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico, as well as fighting against US settlers and soldiers.

Throughout his life, Geronimo was admired by his followers not only for his skills as a medicine man, but also as a defender of the Native American way of life by way of his fierce hunting prowess. On the other side of the coin, he was viewed in the eyes of some as a vengeful man who needlessly, if not foolishly, endangered the lives of others.

In February 1909, 80-year-old Geronimo was thrown off his horse. Despite surviving the fall, his health rapidly deteriorated. Several days later, he passed away and was buried at the Beef Creek Apache Cemetery in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

1936 – The Birth of a Superhero

Two years before Superman hit the scene, the world’s first comic book superhero made his debut.

“The Phantom” was first published on 17 February 1936 as a syndicated daily comic strip series. It told the adventures of Christopher “Kit” Walker, whose alter-ego was none other than the eponymous Phantom (AKA “The Ghost Who Walks”) who wore a mask and purple outfit as he dished out punishments to evildoers.

Falk worked on “The Phantom” for over 60 years until his death in 1999. Today, the superhero is still seen in more than 500 newspapers around the globe.

1996 – Kasparov Sinks Deep Blue

Nearly 30 years ago, man triumphed over machine in a fierce series of chess battles.

From 10 February to 17 February, world chess champion Garry Kasparov locked strategic horns with an IBM supercomputer named Deep Blue over six chess matches at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. So far, Deep Blue (Black) had one win to its name, Kasparov (White) himself had two wins, and two draws made up the rest of the score.

On the last day, the sixth match would see if Deep Blue could match Kasparov’s score, or if the Russian would take the last victory. Ultimately, the latter came out triumphant: he managed to keep a more closed position against Deep Blue until the computer’s Black pieces were crammed into its queenside corner.

Resultantly, Kasparov won the match 4-2, defeating Deep Blue … for now. The following year, the computer beat the world chess champion in a much-publicised, six-match series.

2017 – The Eighth Continent

Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America … Zealandia?

Five years ago, 11 researchers published their findings about Zealandia, a huge landmass measuring up to five million square kilometres that neighbours Australia. Approximately 94% of it is underwater with only a few islands and three major land masses sticking out above the surface, namely New Zealand’s North and South Islands, and New Caledonia.

The researchers have since lobbied for Zealandia to be formally recognised as Earth’s eighth continent. Of course, there’s no actual scientific committee or body that has the means nor responsibility to name it as a genuine continent. Still, it just goes to show that there’s a lot going on beneath Earth’s surface that we don’t know about (and may just be discovered!).

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