Thursday, August 23, 2007

FRIDAY'S HISTORY LESSON: DAME NELLIE MELBA 1861-1931

Helen Porter Mitchell adopted the professional name "Melba" to acknowledge her birthplace, Melbourne. Melba was the eldest of 10 children. Although she first sang in public when 6, forming a lifelong attachment to 'Comin' thro' the Rye', it was her humming that visitors noticed. Unwittingly she had hit upon what she would later describe as an effective vocal exercise. She also whistled, and generally behaved like a tomboy.
Melba began to study and singing seriously after her marriage in 1882. Following appearances in Sydney and London, she made her operatic debut in Brussels in 1887. It was the start of a phenomenal 38-year career on the World stage.
Melba won acclaim at Covent Garden, London, and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and then in most of the leading opera houses of the world until her retirement. Divorced in 1900, she could be forthright, vain and scandalous, so the papers said. Australians saw her living a gilded lifestyle among the best of international society, and she became the epitome of glamour and fame. She was mobbed on her return home in 1902.
In 1909 Melba undertook a sentimental tour of Australia, and was greeted with adulation wherever she went. During the war, international travel was restricted, but she was energetic in her war work. Melba was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1918 and elevated to Dame Grand Cross in the order in 1927. It was as 'the Voice' that Melba sometimes chose to describe herself. "Good singing", she stated, "is easy singing"; nature had given her an almost perfect larynx and vocal cords. Her range was fully three octaves, while her registers were so well blended that even an eminent throat specialist thought they were one. A scientific measurement of her trill produced twenty feet of undulations between perfectly parallel lines. Instrumentalists admired her, not least for the way that, despite her imperious temperament, she scrupulously sought to realize the composer's intentions.

From 1904 Melba began recording, she issued over one hundred records and helped to establish the gramophone. In 1920 she also became the first artist of international standing to participate in direct radio broadcasts.
In 1928 Melba performed in Geelong where she was to sing in her last Australian concert. Feeling that she had been away too long, Melba left for Europe for two years, and sang in Brighton before moving on to Paris and Egypt, where she developed a fever. She never quite shook it off, however, she did manage to sing one last time at a charity entertainment at the Hyde Park Hotel, London.
Dreading another Northern winter, Melba decided to return to Melbourne, but her health grew worse on board ship. Partly in the hope of getting better medical care, she later went to Sydney where, in St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, she died on 23 February 1931 of septicaemia, which had developed from facial surgery in Europe some weeks before. Dame Nellie Melba was aged 69.
I could not leave you without having a link to have a listen to Dame Nellie Melba's voice could I? Nope..so HERE it is..enjoy! Oh, and one more HERE.


12 comments:

Queen of Dysfunction said...

I love the story behind her nickname. I think Melba is perfect.

Aidan said...

If onl;y melbourne sounded the same...

Andrew said...

I didn't know too much about her Cazzie, thanks. Noted that cult of celebrity is nothing new.

Mom said...

Where do you find all these interesting tidbits of history?
I grew up listening to music on 78 records. I wonder how many of your readers ever used a 78 record player.

Keshi said...

wow didnt know abt her at all. ty Caz!

Keshi.

Middle Child said...

Wow.... wow. I am going to print out this. My grandfather actually went with his mother when he was twelve (Grandfather was born in 1886 and they heard dame Nellie sing...

I have a 3DVD set on her...

Thank you Cazzie...


Will check out all your new posts soon am just dropping in to tell you that I have "Memed" you and other Aussie bloggers...its a US based tagg thingie...and you will have to have a look at my blog to see the RULES of Das Furher...there are always rules...

Jay said...

That's a pretty cool story. If she sounds that amazing on those old records think about how she would sound using digital recording of today!

A Slice of Life said...

Great story. I'd never heard of her before, but now I know that her voice is lovely.

captain corky said...

I always enjoy reading the story of good broad or dame. ;)

phishez_rule said...

You know, I ave heard of her before. Quite often. But I never knew what she was actually famous for.

Divorced in 1900! Scandalous indeed!

Cazzie!!! said...

QOD, yes, it sure is.

Aidan, LOL, I did think that to begin with when I read it, I guess it is better than Smellbourne, haha.

Andrew, yes, not new at all is it? See, we go on about people having hissy fits in the entertainment industry like it is all new. How wrong the media can be.

Mom, my pa's mum had one and he grew up listening to them with the neighbours and their kids.

Keshi, love ya girl!

MC, that is amazing history of your family, yet again. I love reading about your family.

Jay, for sure, you are right, I never thought of it that way.

A Slice Of Life, yes, I am glad to have been able to introduce her to you :)

Captain, LOL.

Phishez, for sure. What amazed me now is that she had a face lift back in teh day and that is how she actually met her demise, from the infection it caused, very sad indeed.

MADELEINE ROCKS said...

I think that dame nellie melba is cool i'm acually doing a project on her which is asome fun!!!!!