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Dame Nellie Melba GBE (born Helen Porter Mitchell; 19 May 186123 February 1931) was an Australian
operatic soprano A soprano () is a type of classical female singing Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice. A person who sings is called a singer or vocalist (in jazz and popular music). Singers perform music (arias, recitati ...
. She became one of the most famous singers of the late
Victorian era In the , the Victorian era was the of 's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the and preceded the , and its later half overlaps with the first part of the ' era of Continental Europe. There was ...
and the early 20th century, and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She took the pseudonym "Melba" from
Melbourne Melbourne ( ) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller l ...

Melbourne
, her home town. Melba studied singing in Melbourne and made a modest success in performances there. After a brief and unsuccessful marriage, she moved to Europe in search of a singing career. Failing to find engagements in London in 1886, she studied in Paris and soon made a great success there and in Brussels. Returning to London she quickly established herself as the leading
lyric soprano A lyric soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has a warm quality with a bright, full timbre that can be heard over an orchestra. The lyric soprano voice generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenue (stock ch ...
at
Covent Garden Covent Garden is a district in London, on the eastern fringes of the West End West End most commonly refers to: * West End of London, an area of central London, England * West End theatre, a popular term for mainstream professional theatre sta ...
from 1888. She soon achieved further success in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, and later at the
Metropolitan Opera The Metropolitan Opera (commonly known as the Met) is an American opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House (Lincoln Center), Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. The company is operated by the nonpr ...

Metropolitan Opera
in New York, debuting there in 1893. Her repertoire was small; in her whole career she sang no more than 25 roles and was closely identified with only ten. She was known for her performances in French and Italian opera, but sang little German opera. During the First World War, Melba raised large sums for war charities. She returned to Australia frequently during the 20th century, singing in opera and concerts, and had a house built for her near Melbourne. She was active in the teaching of singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium. Melba continued to sing until the last months of her life and made a large number of "farewell" appearances. Her death, in Australia, was news across the English-speaking world, and her funeral was a major national event. The Australian $100 note features her image.


Life and career


Early years

Melba was born in
Richmond, Victoria Richmond is an inner suburb of Melbourne, Victoria (Australia), Victoria, Australia, 3 km (1.86 miles) east of Melbourne's Melbourne City Centre, Central Business District in the Local government areas of Victoria, local government area of t ...
, the eldest of seven children of the builder David Mitchell and his wife Isabella Ann ''née'' Dow. Mitchell, a Scot, had emigrated to Australia in 1852, becoming a successful builder. Melba was taught to play the piano and first sang in public around age six. She was educated at a local boarding school and then at the Presbyterian Ladies' College.Davidson, Jim
"Melba, Dame Nellie (1861–1931)"
''Australian Dictionary of Biography'', accessed 11 December 2012
She studied singing with Mary Ellen Christian (a former pupil of Manuel García) and Pietro Cecchi, an Italian tenor, who was a respected teacher in Melbourne.Steane, J. B
"Melba, Dame Nellie (1861–1931)"
''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'', Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2011, accessed 24 May 2011.
In her teens, Melba continued to perform in amateur concerts in and around Melbourne, and she played the organ at church. Her father encouraged her in her musical studies, but he strongly disapproved of her taking up singing as a career.Sadauskas, Andrew
"Melba Bashed by Cowardly Husband"
''Australian Stamps Professional'', accessed 23 May 2011
Melba's mother died suddenly in 1881 at Richmond. Melba's father moved the family to
Mackay, Queensland } Mackay () is a city in the Mackay Region on the eastern or Coral Sea coast of Queensland, Australia. It is located about north of Brisbane, on the Pioneer River. Mackay is nicknamed the sugar capital of Australia because its region produces m ...
, where he built a new sugar mill. Melba soon became popular in Mackay society for her singing and piano-playing. On 22 December 1882 in
Brisbane Brisbane ( ) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller low ...

Brisbane
, she married Charles Nesbitt Frederick Armstrong (1858–1948), the youngest son of Sir Andrew Armstrong. They had one child, a son, George, born on 16 October 1883."Divorce of Madame Melba"
''The Morning Bulletin'', 14 April 1900, p. 5
The marriage was not a success; Charles reportedly beat his wife more than once. The couple separated after just over a year, and Melba returned to Melbourne determined to pursue a singing career, debuting professionally in concerts in 1884. She was often accompanied in concert, and some of her concerts were organised, at times throughout her career by the flautist
John Lemmone John Lemmone (22 June 1861 – 16 August 1949; also seen as John Lemmoné) was an Australian flute player and composer who was largely self-taught and who at the age of 12, paid for his first flute with gold he had panned himself on the goldfield ...
, who became a "lifelong friend and counsellor". On the strength of local success, she travelled to London in search of an opportunity. Her debut at the Princes' Hall in 1886 made little impression, and she sought work unsuccessfully from
Sir Arthur Sullivan Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Royal Victorian Order, MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer. He is best known for 14 comic opera, operatic Gilbert and Sullivan, collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, includin ...

Sir Arthur Sullivan
,
Carl Rosa Carl August Nicholas Rosa (22 March 184230 April 1889) was a German-born musical impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or opera ...

Carl Rosa
and
Augustus Harris Sir Augustus Henry Glossop Harris (18 March 1852 – 22 June 1896) was a British actor, impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or ...

Augustus Harris
. She then went to Paris to study with the leading teacher
Mathilde Marchesi Mathilde Marchesi (née Graumann; 24 March 1821 – 17 November 1913) was a German mezzo-soprano A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (; ; meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical music, classical female singing human voice, voice whose vocal range li ...
, who instantly recognised the young singer's potential: she exclaimed, "''J'ai enfin une étoile!'' ("I have a star at last!"). Melba made such rapid progress that she was allowed to sing the "Mad Scene" from
Ambroise Thomas Charles Louis Ambroise Thomas (; 5 August 1811 – 12 February 1896) was a French composer and teacher, best known for his operas ''Mignon ''Mignon'' is an 1866 '' opéra comique'' (or opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a ...

Ambroise Thomas
's ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and acto ...
'' at a ''matinée musicale'' in Marchesi's house in December the same year, in the presence of the composer. The young singer's talent was so evident that, after less than a year with Marchesi, the impresario
Maurice StrakoschImage:Maurice-strakosch.jpg, Portrait of Maurice Strakosch by Jose Maria Mora (ca. 1875). Maurice Strakosch (probably 15 January 1825 – 9 October 1887) was an American musician and impresario of Czech origin. Biography Strakosch was born in Židlo ...
gave her a ten-year contract at 1000 francs annually. After she had signed, she received a far better offer of 3000 francs per month from the Théâtre de
la Monnaie The Royal Theatre of La Monnaie (french: Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, italic=no, nl, Koninklijke Muntschouwburg, italic=no; both translating as the "Royal Theatre of the Mint"), is an opera house An opera house is a used for performances ...
, Brussels, but Strakosch would not release her and obtained an injunction preventing her from accepting it. She was in despair when the matter was resolved by Strakosch's sudden death. She made her operatic debut four days later as Gilda in ''
Rigoletto ''Rigoletto'' is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian wor ...

Rigoletto
'' at La Monnaie on 12 October 1887. The critic
Herman Klein Herman Klein (born Hermann Klein; 23 July 1856 – 10 March 1934) was an English music critic, author and teacher of singing. Klein's famous brothers included Charles Charles is a masculine given name predominantly found in English and ...
described her Gilda as "an instant triumph of the most emphatic kind ... followed ... a few nights later with an equal success as Violetta in ''
La traviata ''La traviata'' (; ''The Fallen Woman'') is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal tra ...

La traviata
''." It was at this time, on Marchesi's advice, that she adopted the stage name of "Melba", a contraction of the name of her home city.


London, Paris and New York debuts

Melba made her
Covent Garden Covent Garden is a district in London, on the eastern fringes of the West End West End most commonly refers to: * West End of London, an area of central London, England * West End theatre, a popular term for mainstream professional theatre sta ...
début in May 1888, in the title role in ''
Lucia di Lammermoor ''Lucia di Lammermoor'' is a ''dramma tragico'' (tragic opera) in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian-language libretto loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's 1819 historical novel ''The Bride of Lammermoor''. Don ...
''. She received a friendly but not excited reception. ''
The Musical Times ''The Musical Times'' is an academic journal An academic or scholarly journal is a periodical publication Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of serial publications that appear in a ...
'' wrote, "Madame Melba is a fluent vocalist, and a quite respectable representative of light soprano parts; but she lacks the personal charm necessary to a great figure on the lyric stage." She was offended when Augustus Harris, then in charge at Covent Garden, offered her only the small role of the page Oscar in ''
Un ballo in maschera ''Un ballo in maschera'' ''(A Masked Ball)'' is an 1859 opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the l ...
'' for the next season."A Prima Donna – Madame Melba's Memories", ''The Times'', 23 October 1925, p. 8 She left England vowing never to return. The following year, she performed at the in Paris, in the role of Ophélie in ''Hamlet''; ''The Times'' described this as "a brilliant success", and said, "Madame Melba has a voice of great flexibility ... her acting is expressive and striking." Melba had a strong supporter in London, Lady de Grey, whose views carried weight at Covent Garden. Melba was persuaded to return, and Harris cast her in '' Roméo et Juliette'' (June 1889) co-starring with
Jean de Reszke Jean de Reszke (14 January 18503 April 1925) was a Polish tenor A tenor is a type of classical male singing Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice. A person who sings is called a singer or vocalist (in jazz ...
. She later recalled, "I date my success in London quite distinctly from the great night of 15 June 1889." After this, she returned to Paris as Ophélie, Lucia in ''Lucia di Lammermoor'', Gilda in ''Rigoletto'', Marguerite in ''
Faust Faust is the protagonist 200px, Shakespeare's ''Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864 A protagonist (from grc, πρωταγωνιστής, translit=prōtagōnistḗs, lit=one who plays the first part, chief ...
'', and Juliette. In French operas her pronunciation was poor, but the composer said that he did not care whether she sang in French, Italian, German, English or Chinese, as long as she sang. In the early 1890s, Melba embarked on an affair with . They were seen frequently together in London, which excited some gossip, but far more suspicion arose when Melba travelled across Europe to St Petersburg to sing for
Tsar Nicholas II Nicholas II or Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov . ( 186817 July 1918), known in the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, . was the last Emperor of All Russia, ruling from 1 November 1894 until Abdication of Nicholas II ...

Tsar Nicholas II
: the Duke followed closely behind her, and they were spotted together in Paris, Brussels, Vienna and St Petersburg. Armstrong filed divorce proceedings on the grounds of Melba's adultery, naming the Duke as co-respondent; he was eventually persuaded to drop the case, but the Duke decided that a two-year African safari (without Melba) would be appropriate. He and Melba did not resume their relationship.''The Times'', 5 November 1891, p. 5; 6 November 1891, p. 9; 20 February 1892, p. 5; 17 February 1892, p. 13; 12 March 1892, p. 16; 14 March 1892, p. 3; and 24 March 1892, p. 3 In the first years of the decade, Melba appeared in the leading European opera houses, including Milan, Berlin and Vienna. Melba sang the role of Nedda in ''
Pagliacci ''Pagliacci'' (; literal translation, "Clowns") is an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto A libretto (Italian for "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera Ope ...
'' at Covent Garden in 1893, soon after its Italian premiere. The composer was present, and said that the role had never been so well played before. In December of that year, Melba sang at the
Metropolitan Opera The Metropolitan Opera (commonly known as the Met) is an American opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House (Lincoln Center), Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. The company is operated by the nonpr ...

Metropolitan Opera
in New York for the first time. As at her Covent Garden debut, she appeared as Lucia di Lammermoor, and as at Covent Garden, it was less than a triumph. ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
'' praised her performance – "one of the loveliest voices that ever issued from a human throat ... simply delicious in its fullness, richness and purity" – but the work was out of fashion, and the performances were poorly attended. Her performance in ''Roméo et Juliette'', later in the season, was a triumph and established her as the leading prima donna of the time in succession to
Adelina Patti Adelina Patti (10 February 184327 September 1919) was an Italian 19th-century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851, and gave her last ...

Adelina Patti
. She had at first been nonplussed by the impenetrable snobbery at the Metropolitan; the author Peter Conrad has written, "In London she hobnobbed with royalty; in New York she was a singing menial." Assured of critical success, she set herself to achieve social recognition, and succeeded. From the 1890s, Melba played a wide range of parts at Covent Garden, mostly in the lyric soprano repertoire, but with some heavier roles also. She sang the title roles in
Herman Bemberg Herman Emanuel Bemberg Ocampo (29 March 1859 – 21 July 1931)Baker, Theodore; rev. by Nicolas Slonimsky (1978) ''Baker's Biographical dictionary of musicians – 6th ed.'' New York: Schirmer Books, 138. was a German people, German-Argentinean compo ...
's ''Elaine'' and
Arthur Goring Thomas Arthur Goring Thomas (10 November 185020 March 1892) was an English composer A composer (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoke ...
's '' Esmeralda''. Her Italian parts included Gilda in ''
Rigoletto ''Rigoletto'' is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian wor ...

Rigoletto
'', the title role in ''
Aida ''Aida'' () is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian word ...

Aida
'', Desdemona in ''
Otello ''Otello'' () is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian wor ...
'', Luisa in Mascagni's ''
I Rantzau ''I Rantzau'' (''The Rantzau Family'') is an opera in four acts by Pietro Mascagni (1892), based on a libretto by Guido Menasci and Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, based on the play ''Les Rantzau'' (1873) by French writers Emile Erckmann, Erckmann and C ...
'', Nedda in ''
Pagliacci ''Pagliacci'' (; literal translation, "Clowns") is an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto A libretto (Italian for "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera Ope ...
'', Rosina in ''
The Barber of Seville ''The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution'' ( it, Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'inutile precauzione ) is an opera buffa ''Opera buffa'' (; "comic opera", plural: ''opere buffe'') is a genre of opera Opera is a form of theatr ...
'', Violetta in ''
La traviata ''La traviata'' (; ''The Fallen Woman'') is an opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal tra ...

La traviata
'', and Mimì in ''
La bohème ''La bohème'' (; ) is an opera in four acts,Puccini called the divisions '':wikt:quadro, quadri'', ''wikt:tableau, tableaux'' or "images", rather than ''atti'' (acts). composed by Giacomo Puccini between 1893 and 1895 to an Italian libretto by ...
''. In the French repertoire, she sang Juliette in ''Roméo et Juliette'', Marguerite in ''
Faust Faust is the protagonist 200px, Shakespeare's ''Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864 A protagonist (from grc, πρωταγωνιστής, translit=prōtagōnistḗs, lit=one who plays the first part, chief ...
'', Marguerite de Valois in ''
Les Huguenots () is an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer and is one of the most popular and spectacular examples of grand opera. In five acts, to a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Émile Deschamps, it premiered in Paris on 29 February 1836. Composition history ''Le ...
'', the title role in 's '' Hélène'', which was written for her, and Micaëla in ''
Carmen ''Carmen'' () is an opera in four acts by French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the Carmen (novella), novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed ...

Carmen
''."Royal Italian Opera", ''The Times'', 6 July 1891, p. 8 Some writers expressed surprise at Melba's playing the last of these roles, since it was merely a supporting part in the opera. She played it on many occasions, saying in her memoirs, "Why on earth a prima donna should not sing secondary ''rôles'' I could not see then and am no nearer seeing to-day. I hate the artistic snobbery of it." She sang the role opposite the Carmens of , Zélie de Lussan and
Maria Gay Maria Gay (12 June 1876Spanish Civil Registry, Barcelonayear 1876, entry number 2932 – 29 July 1943) was a Catalan Catalan may refer to: Catalonia From, or related to Catalonia: * Catalan language, a Romance language * Catalans, an ethnic grou ...
. Marguerite de Valois, too, is not the leading female role in ''Les Huguenots'', but Melba was willing to undertake it as ''seconda donna'' to
Emma Albani Dame Emma Albani, Order of the British Empire, DBE (born Marie-Louise-Emma-Cécile Lajeunesse; 1 November 18473 April 1930) was a leading opera soprano of the 19th century and early 20th century, and the first Canadian singer to become an internat ...

Emma Albani
. She was generous in support of singers who did not rival her in her favoured roles, but was, as her biographer J. B. Steane put it, "pathologically critical" of other lyric sopranos. Melba was not known as a
Wagner Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( ; ; 22 May 181313 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemic Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or ...

Wagner
singer, although she occasionally sang Elsa in ''
Lohengrin Lohengrin () is a character in German Arthurian King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and Romance (heroic literature), romances, led th ...
'' and Elisabeth in ''
Tannhäuser Tannhäuser (; Middle High German Middle High German (MHG; german: Mittelhochdeutsch (Mhd.)) is the term for the form of German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Ger ...
''. She received a certain amount of praise in these roles, although Klein found her unsuited to them, and
Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (; 26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemic A polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persua ...

Bernard Shaw
thought she sang with great skill but played artificially and without sensibility. In 1896 at the Metropolitan, she attempted the role of Brünnhilde in '' Siegfried'', in which she was not a success. Her most frequent role in that house was Marguerite in
Gounod Charles-François Gounod (; ; 17 June 181818 October 1893), usually known as Charles Gounod, was a French composer. He wrote twelve operas, of which the most popular has always been ''Faust (opera), Faust'' (1859); his ''Roméo et Juliette'' (18 ...

Gounod
's ''Faust'', which she had studied under the supervision of the composer. She never essayed any of
Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 17565 December 1791), baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical periodClassical period may refer to: *Classical Greece, speci ...

Mozart
's operas, for which some thought her voice ideally suited. Her repertoire across her entire career amounted to no more than 25 roles, of which, ''The Times'' obituarist wrote, "only some 10 parts are those which will be remembered as her own." Melba's marriage to Armstrong was finally terminated when, having emigrated to the United States with their son, he divorced her in Texas in 1900.


Twentieth century

By now established as a leading star in Britain and America, Melba made her first return visit to Australia in 1902–03 for a concert tour, also touring in New Zealand. The profits were unprecedented; she returned for four more tours during her career. Shawe-Taylor, Desmond
"Melba, Dame Nellie"
''Grove Music Online''. Oxford Music Online, accessed 25 May 2011
In Britain, Melba campaigned on behalf of Puccini's ''
La bohème ''La bohème'' (; ) is an opera in four acts,Puccini called the divisions '':wikt:quadro, quadri'', ''wikt:tableau, tableaux'' or "images", rather than ''atti'' (acts). composed by Giacomo Puccini between 1893 and 1895 to an Italian libretto by ...
''. She had first sung the part of Mimì in 1899, having studied it with the composer. She argued strongly for further productions of the work in the face of the distaste expressed by the Covent Garden management at this "new and plebeian opera". She was vindicated by the public enthusiasm for the piece, which was bolstered in 1902 when
Enrico Caruso Enrico Caruso (, , ; 25 February 1873 – 2 August 1921) was an Italian opera Opera is a form of theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, t ...

Enrico Caruso
joined her in the first of many Covent Garden performances together. She sang Mimì for
Oscar Hammerstein I Oscar Hammerstein I (8 May 18461 August 1919) was a German-born businessman, theater impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or o ...
at his opera house in New York, in 1907, giving the enterprise a needed boost. After her initial successes in Brussels and Paris in the 1880s, Melba sang infrequently on the European continent; only the English-speaking countries welcomed her wholeheartedly. She performed 26 times at the
Royal Albert Hall The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall A concert hall is a cultural building with a stage (theatre), stage that serves as a performance venue and an auditorium filled with seats. While early halls built in the 18th and 19th centu ...

Royal Albert Hall
in London between 1898 and 1926. Although she called Covent Garden "my artistic home", her appearances there became less frequent in the 20th century. One reason for this was that she did not get on well with
Sir Thomas Beecham Sir Thomas Beecham, 2nd Baronet, Order of the Companions of Honour, CH (29 April 18798 March 1961) was an English conductor and impresario best known for his association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic and the Royal ...
, who was in control of the opera house for much of the period from 1910 until her retirement. She said, "I dislike Beecham and his methods", and he thought that while she had "nearly all the attributes inseparable from great artistry ... she was wanting in a genuine spiritual refinement." Another factor in her reduced appearances at Covent Garden was the appearance on the scene of
Luisa Tetrazzini Luisa Tetrazzini (June 29, 1871 – April 28, 1940) was an Italian coloratura Coloratura is an elaborate melody with run (music), runs, Trill (music), trills, wide Steps and skips, leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material,''Oxford American ...

Luisa Tetrazzini
, a soprano ten years her junior, who became a great success in London and later in New York in roles previously associated with Melba. A third reason was her decision to spend more time in Australia. In 1909 she undertook what she called a "sentimental tour" of Australia, covering 10,000 miles (16,000 km) and including many remote towns. In 1911 in partnership with the
J. C. WilliamsonJames Cassius Williamson (August 26, 1844 – July 6, 1913) was an American actor and later Australia's foremost impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances c ...
company, she appeared in an operatic season. Her attitude to her tour concerts and the audiences attending was summed up in the advice that
Clara Butt Dame Clara Ellen Butt, (1 February 1872 – 23 January 1936) was an English contralto A contralto () is a type of classical female singing Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice. A person who sings is called a ...

Clara Butt
said Melba gave her apropos of a planned Australian tour: "Sing 'em muck; it's all they can understand." To another colleague and compatriot, Peter Dawson, she described his home city of
Adelaide Adelaide ( ) is the capital city A capital or capital city is the municipality holding primary status in a Department (country subdivision), department, country, Constituent state, state, province, or other administrative region, usually ...

Adelaide
as "that city of the three P's – Parsons, Pubs and Prostitutes."Gaisberg, Fred. "Peter Dawson", ''
Gramophone A phonograph, in its later forms also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or since the 1940s called a record player, is a device for the mechanical Sound recording and reproduction, recording ...
'', January 1949, p. 3
In 1909, Melba bought property at
Coldstream Coldstream ( gd, An Sruthan Fuar , sco, Caustrim) is a town A town is a human settlement. Towns are generally larger than villages and smaller than city, cities, though the criteria to distinguish between them vary considerably in ...
, a small town near Melbourne, and in 1912 she had a home built there (extending an existing cottage) that she named Coombe Cottage after a house she had rented near London."Our Story: Nellie Melba"
Coombe Yarra Valley, accessed 4 February 2016
She also set up a music school in Richmond, which she later merged into the Melbourne Conservatorium. She was in Australia when the
First World War World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...
broke out, and she threw herself into fund-raising for war charities, raising £100,000. In recognition of this, she was created a
Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry An order of chivalry, order of knighthood, chivalric order, or equestrian order is an order of knights typically founded during or inspired by the original Catho ...
(DBE) in March 1918, "for services in organising patriotic work". After the war, Melba made a triumphant return to the Royal Opera House, in a performance of ''La bohème'' conducted by Beecham, which re-opened the house after four years of closure. ''The Times'' wrote, "Probably no season at Covent Garden has ever started with quite the thrill of enthusiasm which passed through the house." In her many concerts, however, her repertoire was regarded as trite and predictable. After one of them ''
The Musical Times ''The Musical Times'' is an academic journal An academic or scholarly journal is a periodical publication Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of serial publications that appear in a ...
'' wrote: In 1922, Melba returned to Australia, where she sang at the immensely successful "Concerts for the People" in Melbourne and Sydney, with low ticket prices, attracting 70,000 people. In 1924 for another Williamson opera season, she caused resentment among local singers by importing an entire chorus from Naples. In 1926 she made her farewell appearance at Covent Garden, singing in scenes from ''Roméo et Juliette'', ''Otello'', and ''La bohème''. She is well remembered in Australia for her seemingly endless series of "farewell" appearances, including stage performances in the mid-1920s and concerts in Sydney on 7 August 1928, Melbourne on 27 September 1928 and
Geelong Geelong () ( Wathawurrung: ''Djilang''/''Djalang'') is a port city A port is a maritime Maritime may refer to: Geography * Maritime Alps, a mountain range in the southwestern part of the Alps * Maritime Region, a region in ...

Geelong
in November 1928. From this, she is remembered in the vernacular Australian expression "more farewells than Dame Nellie Melba". In 1929 she returned for the last time to Europe and then visited Egypt, where she contracted a fever that she never entirely shook off. Her last performance was in London at a charity concert on 10 June 1930. She returned to Australia but died in
St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney is a leading tertiary referral hospital and research Medical facility, facility located in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, an inner suburb of Sydney. Though funded and integrated into the New South Wales state publ ...
, in 1931, aged 69, of
septicaemia Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs. This initial stage is followed by suppression of the immune system. Common signs and symptoms include fever, ta ...
which had developed after facial surgery in Europe some time before. She was given an elaborate funeral from
Scots' Church, Melbourne The Scots' Church is a Presbyterian Presbyterianism is a part of the Reformed tradition within Protestantism Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers ...
, which her father had built and where as a teenager she had sung in the choir."Church History"
, Scots' Church website, accessed 7 June 2010
The funeral motorcade was over a kilometre long, and her death made front-page headlines in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Europe. Billboards in many countries said simply "Melba is dead". Part of the event was filmed for posterity. Melba was buried in the cemetery at Lilydale, near Coldstream. Her headstone, designed by
Sir Edwin Lutyens Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens ( ; 29 March 1869 – 1 January 1944) was an English architect known for imaginatively adapting traditional architectural styles to the requirements of his era. He designed many English country house An Engli ...
,"Memorials and Monuments to Individuals"
"Ten Years on Exhibition", Lutyens Trust, accessed 14 September 2018
bears the farewell words of Mimì in ''La bohème'': "" (Farewell, without bitterness).


Teacher and patron

Despite the antipathy Melba inspired in some of her peers, she helped the careers of younger singers. She taught for many years at the Conservatorium in Melbourne and looked for a "new Melba". She published a book about her methods, which were based on those of Marchesi. The book opens: Others also benefited from Melba's praise and interest. She passed her own
cadenza , K. 595. The I– V– I progression at the cadenza is typical of the Classical concerto. '' in Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 File:Mozart - Violin Concerto K. 271a, III - cadenza.png, upright=1.8, Cadenza in Mozart's Violin Concerto ...

cadenza
s on to a young , a valuable professional asset. In 1924, Melba brought the new star
Toti Dal Monte Antonietta Meneghel (27 June 189326 January 1975), better known by her stage name Toti Dal Monte, was a celebrated Italian operatic Opera is a form of theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses liv ...

Toti Dal Monte
, fresh from triumphs in Milan and Paris but still unheard in England or the United States, to Australia as a principal of the Melba-Williamson Grand Opera Company. After sharing the Covent Garden stage in a 1923 night of operatic extracts with another Australian soprano, Florence Austral (who, as a
dramatic sopranoA dramatic soprano is a type of opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles are taken by Singing, singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the It ...
, posed no threat to Melba, a lyric soprano), Melba was effusive with her praise, describing the younger woman as "one of the wonder-voices of the world"."Florence Austral"
, Bikwill, accessed 27 May 2011
She similarly described the American
contralto A contralto () is a type of classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architect ...
Louise Homer Louise Beatty Homer (April 30, 1871May 6, 1947) was an American operatic contralto who had an active international career in concert halls and opera houses from 1895 until her retirement in 1932. After a brief stint as a vaudeville entertainer in ...

Louise Homer
as possessing "the world's most beautiful voice". She gave financial assistance to the Australian painter Hugh Ramsay, living in poverty in Paris and also helped him to forge connections in the artistic world.Bassett, Peter
"Melba and ''La bohème'' – Addio, senza rancore"
Peterbassett.com, accessed 19 May 2011
The Australian
baritone A baritone is a type of classical music, classical male singing human voice, voice whose vocal range lies between the bass (voice type), bass and the tenor voice type, voice-types. The term originates from the Greek language, Greek (), meaning ...
John BrownleeJohn Brownlee may refer to: * John Brownlee (baritone) (1900-1969), Australian opera singer * John Brownlee (basketball), retired American basketball player * John Brownlee (statistician) (1868-1927), a British statistician * John Edward Brownlee, Ca ...
and
tenor A tenor is a type of classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architecture, ...

tenor
Browning Mummery were both protégés: both sang with her in her 1926 Covent Garden farewell (recorded by HMV), and Brownlee sang with her on two of her last commercial recordings later that year (a session arranged by her in part to promote Brownlee).


Recordings and broadcasts

Melba's first recordings were made around 1895, recorded on cylinders at the Phonograph Lab in New York. A reporter from Phonoscope magazine was impressed: "The next cylinder was labelled 'Melba' and was truly wonderful, the phonograph reproducing her wonderful voice in a marvellous manner, especially the high notes which soared away above the staff and were rich and clear." Melba was less impressed: "'Never again,' I said to myself as I listened to the scratching, screeching result. 'Don't tell me I sing like that, or I shall go away and live on a desert island.'" The recordings never reached the general public – destroyed on Melba's orders, it is suspected – and Melba would not venture into a recording studio for another eight years. Melba can be heard singing on several
Mapleson Cylinders The Mapleson Cylinders are a group of more than 100 phonograph cylinder Phonograph cylinders are the earliest commercial medium for Sound recording and reproduction, recording and reproducing sound. Commonly known simply as "records" in their era ...

Mapleson Cylinders
, early attempts at live recording, made by the Metropolitan Opera House librarian Lionel Mapleson in the auditorium there during performances. These cylinders are often poor in quality, but they preserve something of the quality of the young Melba's voice and performance that is sometimes lacking from her commercial recordings. Melba made numerous
gramophone A phonograph, in its later forms also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or since the 1940s called a record player, is a device for the mechanical Sound recording and reproduction, recording ...
(
phonograph A phonograph, in its later forms also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or since the 1940s called a record player, is a device for the mechanical and analogue recording and reproduction ...

phonograph
) records of her voice in England and America between 1904 (when she was already in her 40s) and 1926 for the
Gramophone & Typewriter Company The Gramophone Company Limited (The Gramophone Co. Ltd.), based in the United Kingdom and founded on behalf of Emil Berliner, was one of the early record company, recording companies, the parent organisation for the ''His Master's Voice (HMV)'' ...
and the
Victor Talking Machine Company The Victor Talking Machine Company was an American recording company and phonograph A phonograph, in its later forms also called a gramophone (as a trademark since 1887, as a generic name in the UK since 1910) or since the 1940s called a ...
. Most of these recordings, consisting of operatic arias, duets and ensemble pieces and songs, have been re-released on CD.Steane, John. "Nellie Melba", ''Gramophone'', May 2003, p. 17 The poor audio fidelity of the Melba recordings reflects the limitations of the early days of commercial sound recording. Melba's acoustical recordings (especially those made after her initial 1904 session) fail to capture vital overtones to the voice, leaving it without the body and warmth it possessed – albeit to a limited degree – in life. Despite this, they still reveal Melba to have had an almost seamlessly pure
lyric soprano A lyric soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has a warm quality with a bright, full timbre that can be heard over an orchestra. The lyric soprano voice generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenue (stock ch ...
voice with effortless coloratura, a smooth legato and accurate intonation. Melba had perfect pitch; the critic Michael Aspinall says of her complete London recordings issued on LP, that there are only two lapses from pitch in the entire set. Like Patti, and unlike the more vibrant-voiced Tetrazzini, Melba's exceptional purity of tone was probably one of the principal reasons why British audiences, with their strong choral and sacred music traditions, idolised her. Melba's farewell to Covent Garden on 8 June 1926 was recorded by HMV, as well as broadcast. The programme included Act 2 of '' Roméo et Juliette'' (not recorded because the tenor Charles Hackett was not under contract to HMV), followed by the opening of Act 4 of ''Otello'' (Desdemona's "Willow Song" and "Ave Maria") and Acts 3 and 4 of ''La bohème'' (with Aurora Rettore, Browning Mummery, John Brownlee and others). The conductor was Vincenzo Bellezza. At the conclusion Arthur Stanley, 5th Baron Sheffield, Lord Stanley of Alderley made a formal address and Melba gave an emotional farewell speech. In a pioneering venture, eleven sides (78rpm) were recorded via a landline to Gloucester House (London), though in the event only three of these were published. The full series (including both speeches) was included in a 1976 HMV reissue.Aspinall, Michael. "Nellie Melba: The London Recordings 1904–1926", Insert booklet to HMV LP set RLS, EMI, London, 1976 As was the case in many of her performances, most of Melba's recordings were made at "French Pitch" (A=435 Hz), rather than the British early 20th century standard of A=452 Hz, or the modern standard of A=440 Hz. This, and the technical inadequacies of the early recording process (discs were frequently recorded faster or slower than the supposed standard of 78rpm, whilst the conditions of the cramped recording studios – kept very warm to keep the wax at the necessary softness when cutting – would wreak havoc with instrumental tuning during recording sessions), means that playing her recordings back in the speed and pitch she made them at is not always a simple matter. On 15 June 1920, Melba was heard in a pioneering radio broadcast from Guglielmo Marconi's New Street Works factory in Chelmsford, singing two arias and her famous trill. She was the first artist of international renown to participate in direct radio broadcasts. Radio enthusiasts across the country heard her, and the broadcast was reportedly heard from as far away as New York. People listening on the radio barely heard a few scratches of the trill and two arias she sang. Further radio broadcasts would include her Covent Garden farewell performance, and a 1927 "Empire Broadcast" (broadcast throughout the British Empire, by radio stations AWA and 2FC, Sydney, on Monday 5 September 1927; it was relayed by the BBC London on Sunday 4 September).


Honours, memorials and legacy

Melba was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1918 New Year Honours, along with May Whitty the first stage performer to receive this order, for her charity work during World War I, and was elevated to Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1927. She was the first Australian to appear on the cover of ''Time (magazine), Time'' magazine, in April 1927. A stained glass window commemorating Melba was erected in 1962 in the Musicians' Memorial Chapel of the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London. She is one of only two singers – the other being
Adelina Patti Adelina Patti (10 February 184327 September 1919) was an Italian 19th-century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851, and gave her last ...

Adelina Patti
– with a marble bust on the grand staircase of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. A blue plaque commemorates Melba at Coombe House, Devey Close in Coombe, Kingston upon Thames, where she lived in 1906. She was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001. Melba was closely associated with the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Melbourne Conservatorium, and this institution was renamed the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music in her honour in 1956. The music hall at the University of Melbourne is known as Melba Hall. The Canberra suburb of Melba, Australian Capital Territory, Melba is named after her. The Australian $100 note features the image of her face, and her likeness has also appeared on an Australian stamp. Sydney Town Hall has a marble relief bearing the inscription "Remember Melba", unveiled during a World War II charity concert in memory of Melba and her First world war, First World War charity work and patriotic concerts. A tunnel on Melbourne's EastLink (Melbourne), EastLink freeway is named in her honour. A street in San Francisco, Melba Avenue, is also named for her. Melba's home in Marian, Queensland, during her brief cohabitation with her husband was relocated from the Marian Mill (where it was due to be demolished) to a riverbank setting along the main Eungella Road in Edward Lloyd Park, where, under the name Melba House, it was restored and now operates as a Melba museum and the Pioneer Valley Visitor Information Centre. Her home Coombe Cottage in Coldstream, Victoria, passed to her granddaughter Pamela, Lady Vestey (1918–2011). It is now owned by Lady Vestey's sons, Samuel Vestey, 3rd Baron Vestey, Sam (3rd Baron Vestey) and Mark, who reside in the United Kingdom. The house was designed by John Harry Grainger, father of the composer Percy Grainger, and a close friend of Melba's father David Mitchell. Melba's name is associated with four foods, all of which were created in her honour by the French chef Auguste Escoffier: * Peach Melba, a dessert made of peaches, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream * Melba sauce, a sweet purée of raspberries and red currant * Melba toast, a crisp dry toast * Melba Garniture, chicken, truffles and mushrooms stuffed into tomatoes with velouté sauce. Melba planted a variety of poplar tree known as ''Populus × canadensis, Populus × canadensis "Aurea"'', or golden poplar, on the Central Lawn in Melbourne Botanic Gardens on 11 April 1903, which has become known as "Melba's poplar". On 19 May 2011 Google celebrated her 150th birthday with a Google Doodle.


Books, films and television

Melba's autobiography, ''Melodies and Memories'', was published in 1925, largely ghost-written by her secretary Beverley Nichols. Nichols later complained that Melba did not cooperate in the process of writing or by reviewing what he wrote. Full-length biographies devoted to her include those by Agnes G. Murphy (1909), John Hetherington (1967), Thérèse Radic (1986) and Ann Blainey (2009). A novel ''Evensong'' by Nichols (1932) was based on aspects of Melba's life, drawing an unflattering portrait. The Evensong (film), 1934 motion picture adaptation of ''Evensong'', starring Evelyn Laye as the character based on Melba, was for a time banned in Australia. Melba appears in the 1946 novel ''Lucinda Brayford'' by Martin Boyd. She is depicted as singing at a garden party thrown by the mother of the eponymous heroine, when she is described as having the "loveliest voice in the world". In 1946–1947 Crawford Productions produced a popular radio series on Melba starring Glenda Raymond, who became one of the foundation singers of the Australian Opera (later Opera Australia) in 1956. In 1953 a Biographical film, biopic titled ''Melba (film), Melba'' was released by Horizon Pictures and directed by Lewis Milestone. Melba was played by the soprano Patrice Munsel. In 1987 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced a mini-series, ''Melba (miniseries), Melba'', starring Linda Cropper miming to the singing voice of Yvonne Kenny. Melba was portrayed by Kiri Te Kanawa in List of Downton Abbey episodes, episode 3 of season 4 of the British ITV television show ''Downton Abbey'' (2013), performing at the abbey as a guest of Lord and Lady Grantham. Rupert Christiansen, writing in ''The Telegraph'', bemoaned the casting and the fact checking. Melba appears in a pivotal scene in the 2014 novel ''Tell'' by Frances Itani."Music that inspired the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists"
CBC Books, 7 November 2014, accessed 19 July 2015


Notes and references


Notes


References


Sources

* * (US edition (2009) published as ''Marvelous Melba: The Extraordinary Life of a Great Diva''. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. ) * * * * * *


Further reading

* * * * *


External links

* *
Links to recordings, images and information about Melba


– link to 1906 recording of the aubade from the opera ''Le roi d'Ys''
1902 portrait ''Madame Melba''
painted by Rupert Bunny
Photo of Melba, her father and niece
(1903), Library of Congress
Biography; photo of dress worn by Melba

Melba in Queensland
– John Oxley Library blog, State Library of Queensland
Melba, Nellie
in ''The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia''
Nellie Melba Collection
at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne {{DEFAULTSORT:Melba, Nellie Nellie Melba, Australian operatic sopranos 1861 births 1931 deaths ARIA Award winners ARIA Hall of Fame inductees Australian women writers Australian autobiographers Australian people of Scottish descent Australian Dames Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire Singers awarded knighthoods Women autobiographers Women of the Victorian era People educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne Deaths from sepsis Infectious disease deaths in New South Wales Singers from Melbourne 19th-century Australian women opera singers 20th-century Australian women opera singers