Filumena Costanzo Lassandro, known as ‘Florence,’ immigrated to Canada in the early in the 1900s. At just 15 years old, she married local businessman Charles Lassandro, a partner of kingpin rum runner ‘The Bottle King’ Emilio Picariello. The Lassandros would smuggle alcohol into Crowsnest Pass during Prohibition as an unsuspecting young couple, received protection and compensation from Emilio’s crew.
Locals and historians still debate the nature of Florence and Emilio’s relationship – was it strictly professional [criminal]? Or did it become romantic? Regardless, she was his accomplice and eventually assisted him in the murder of Alberta Provincial Police Officer and Prohibition enforcer: Stephen Lawson.
When the case went to court, the sentence was bolstered by questionable testimony and vicious gossip, and both Florence and Emilio were sentenced to death.
The story of Florence inspired Canadian composer John Estacio, who is known for his contributions to Canadian classical music through major orchestral compositions and original operas. Estacio partnered with Canadian librettist (a specialist in writing and performing opera) John Murrell and produced Filumena, a thrilling opera based on Florence’s life and death.
Premiering in Calgary in 2003, Filumena brought Florence’s story to life with an all-Canadian cast. Estacio and Murrell drew on Crowsnest Pass history to create a piece that highlighted the emotion, history and vibrant characters of the tale. The opera has been performed across Canada, and broadcasted live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporate (CBC).
More juicy details from the story of Florence and Emilio can be found in Adriana Davie’s new book The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picarellio, with additional information on Filumena in The Canadian Encyclopedia.