Nellie Melba

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Dame Nelly Melba in role of Rosina from the Barber of Seville

Dame Nellie Melba (May 19, 1861 - February 23, 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian opera soprano, the first Australian to achieve international recognition in the form.

She was born at "Doonside" in Richmond (now an inner suburb of Melbourne) into a musical family, attending Presbyterian Ladies College [1] ( (a prestigious private school) where her musical talent emerged. She moved with her father to Queensland in 1880. She married and had one son, but was not happy there.

In 1886, she travelled to Europe with her family in an attempt to begin a musical career. With no success in London, she continued to Paris where a prominent music teacher, Madame Marchesi, agreed to tutor her. Thus began a professional career in Australia and England that saw her as the prima donna at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden through to the 1920s.

In 1909, she bought a cottage at Coldstream, a small town 50 km east of Melbourne. The cottage is located at the current juncture of Maroondah Highway and Melba Highway (named in her honour). She also set up a music school in Richmond.

She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and was elevated to Dame Grand Cross in 1927.

In 1920 she appeared on a pioneering radio broadcast from Guglielmo Marconi's factory in Chelmsford, England.

After many "retirements" she finally performed her last concerts in Australia in 1928. She died of septicaemia in 1931, and was buried in Lilydale, near Coldstream. The funeral motorcade was over a kilometre long, and her death made front-page headlines in the UK and Europe. The reason for her illness was long kept secret, but was in fact due to an infection acquired during plastic surgery, a "facelift". [2] (

Her name is associated with two foods, a dessert (the PÍche Melba), and Melba toast. She is also remembered in the vernacular Australian expression "more comebacks than Nellie Melba", which satirised her seemingly endless series of 'retirement' tours in the 1920s. The music hall at the University of Melbourne is known as Melba Hall. The Australian 100-dollar note features her image.

Some recordings of her voice were made in the early 20th century, and have been re-released on CD for contemporary audiences. The audio fidelity of the recordings reflects the limitations of the early days of commercial sound recording.

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