NELLIE MELBA

Nellie Melba (soprano, real name Helen Porter Mitchell) was born near Melbourne, Australia, in 1861. After making some local concert appearances she began a year's study in Paris under the highly respected Mathilde Marchesi (whose daughter, Blanche, later became a formidable interpretative singer). Her debut the following year, as Gilda in Rigoletto (Verdi) brought her immediate recognition. Her tone and impressive technique made her famous from the start, though her artistic judgement developed more slowly. She appeared at La Scala, The New York Metropolitan and Chicago, and became most associated with London's Covent Garden, where she appeared during most seasons from her debut there in 1888 until the first World War.

Her voice was not particularly powerful, and unsuited to Wagner and the heavier roles, but she was particularly effective in lighter roles such as Desdemona in Otello (Verdi) and particularly her favourite role, Mimi in La Boheme (Puccini). Two roles were written specially for her - Elaine (Bemberg) and HelÚne (Saint-SaŰns), though these operas are forgotten today.

She continued singing until 1926, when she made two farewell appearances in London, at the Albert Hall and Covent Garden (the latter, a highly emotional occasion, was recorded); her final farewells were in Sydney and Melbourne in 1928. She died in Sydney in 1931.

AUBADE (Le Roi D'Ys) (Lalo)
HMV 03072 recorded July, 1906

Melba made many recordings, most of them fairly late in her career when her voice was past its best. This one shows better than most the purity and light, floating quality of the voice. It has been transferred at 76rpm, the speed indicated in the 1914 HMV catalogue. There is some wear in the first few seconds, after that it settles down. The label helpfully indicates the key as A flat (transposed down a semitone from the score's pitch in deference to her age) and 76 rpm brings the pitch out just slightly flat of that in modern concert pitch, which seems reasonable. The recording has been digitally noise reduced (see note on the introduction page).

The record has Melba's own lilac-coloured label - click here to see it. Incidentally the aria has been somewhat adapted for her - in the opera it's actually sung by the tenor and chorus.

If you would like to download this recording you can do so from this page.

Her fame was such that Peach Melba and Melba Toast were named after her - a tribute accorded to just a few operatic 'superstars'.