Dame Nellie Melba [music videos]

Nellie Melba (born Helen Porter Mitchell, in Richmond, Victoria, on 19 May 1861) was a famous Australian opera singer, who performed in operas from 1887 to 1930 (although she had sung on the public stage from 1884, her operatic debut was not until 1887). She studied under Pietro Cecchi in Melbourne and then under Mathilde Marchesi in Paris, the latter introducing her to the wider operatic world (it was Marchesi who suggested she adopt a stage name; “Melba” was chosen as a tribute to Nellie’s home city). She went on to become a great success in Britain and continental Europe, and was asked to perform before various European kings, queens, and emperors.

Following her international success, Melba gave concerts in Australia in 1902, 1907, and 1909; on her 1909 tour she traveled all around Australia, performing not only in the capital cities, but also at many regional centres and remote towns. It was also in 1909 that she made her home at Coldstream (east of Melbourne). With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 she turned her home into a Red Cross centre and threw herself into fund-raising activities to support the war effort, with the money raised being estimated at about £100,000 (an enormous amount in those times), and subsequently, in 1918, was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), “for services in organising patriotic work”.

When Dame Melba decided to retire, she gave a number of farewell performances (so many, in fact, that a new phrase was coined; thereafter, anyone giving a large number of farewell concerts was said to be “doing a Melba”). She gave her final Australian performance in 1928, conducted a farewell tour of Europe during 1929-1930, and then headed back to Australia. Unfortunately she had contracted septicaemia, as a result of an operation in Europe, and, whilst visiting her sister in New South Wales, her illness worsened and she died in St Vincent’s Hospital (Sydney) on 23 February 1931. She was buried in Lilydale cemetery (near to her home in Coldstream, Victoria).

Nellie Melba was a committed Australian patriot, as was shown by her work for the troops during the First World War. In her autobiography, Melodies and Memories, she stated “If you wish to understand me at all . . . you must understand first and foremost, that I am an Australian. Most people seem to imagine that any artist who has been honoured by many countries, who is equally at home in New York or Paris, London or Rome, must of necessity be a cosmopolitan. I do not believe that is true. . . . for me, whatever adventures may be in store, whatever songs there are still to sing, I shall always come back to rest in the shadow of the blue mountains, in the heart of this vast, deserted continent which gave me birth.”

Nellie Melba – Auld Lang Syne
(traditional Scottish song, arranged by the Scottish poet Robert Burns)


Nellie Melba – Comin’ Thro’ the Rye
(traditional song, arranged by the Scottish poet Robert Burns)


Nellie Melba – Lo, Here the Gentle Lark
(song by English composer Henry Bishop)


Nellie Melba – Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
(song credited to African-American composer Wallis Willis)


Nellie Melba – Addio di Mimi [“Goodbye Mimi”]
(from the opera “La Boheme”, by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini)


Nellie Melba – Depuis le Jour [“Since the Day”]
(aria from the opera “Louise”, by French composer Gustave Charpentier)


Nellie Melba – Pleurez, Pleurez Mes Yeux [“Cry, Cry My Eyes”]
(aria from the opera “Le Cid”, by French composer Jules Massenet)


Funeral of Dame Nellie Melba DBE
(1931 news footage)


References and further information:
Jim Davidson. Melba, Dame Nellie (1861–1931), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 7 October 2012)
Roger Neill. Nellie Melba’s life and work, Historic Masters (accessed 7 October 2012)
Nellie Melba, Wikipedia (accessed 7 October 2012)
The London Gazette (number 30576; fifth supplement), 12 March 1918, page 3283 [notification of Melba’s DBE]
Dame Nellie Melba: Now aged 69, The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld.), Friday 5 December 1930, page 4
Melba very ill: Crisis likely this week: Ill-health since return”, The Daily News (Perth, WA), Monday 26 January 1931, page 5 (apparently mis-printed as page 4)
Dame Melba dead: Australia’s queen of song: Remains will be buried at Lilydale, Victoria, The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), Tuesday 24 February 1931, page 1
Nellie Melba. Melodies and Memories, Thomas Nelson, West Melbourne, 1980 [first published 1925], pages 1-2

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