Dame Nellie Melba, whose real name was Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian opera singer who was known around the world for her beautiful voice and strong stage presence. She went by the name “Melba” because it was the name of her home city, Melbourne. She was the first opera singer from Australia to be known around the world. Her shows were put on regularly at Covent Garden in London and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She took singing lessons in Melbourne when she was young. But after her marriage didn’t work out, she moved to Europe to start a singing career. After struggling for a while and studying more in Paris, she became the best lyric soprano at London’s Covent Garden. Over time, she became well-known throughout Europe and sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. During her career, she sang for about 25 different roles. Besides being a great singer, she was also kind and helped raise money during the First World War. She went back to Australia at the start of the 20th century to sing operas and teach music at the Melbourne Conservatorium. She sang and did “farewell” shows until the end of her life. Fans all over the world were sad about her death. She was without a doubt the best coloratura of her time and one of the most famous people of the early 1900s.
Childhood and Adolescence
On May 19, 1861, in Richmond, Victoria, Nellie Melba was born to builder David Mitchell and his wife Isabella Ann née Dow Mitchell. Melba was the family’s eldest surviving child, with seven younger siblings.
She has taken piano lessons since she was a toddler. She acquired her education at a nearby boarding school and studied singing under Mary Ellen Christian and Pietro Cecchi. She went on to Presbyterian Ladies’ College after that. At the age of six, she gave her first public performance.
She performed in amateur performances and as a church organist during her adolescence. Her father encouraged her to pursue musical studies, but he was not enthusiastic about it as a career. Meanwhile, she lost her mother when she was 20 years old.
Her father finally established a new sugar mill in Mackay, Queensland, where the family eventually settled. She quickly became well-known in the area for her musical abilities.
She opted to pursue a singing career after a brief disastrous marriage to Charles Armstrong and debuted professionally in 1884. Flautist John Lemmon, who became a “lifelong companion and adviser,” helped her organize her shows.
Nellie Melba’s Career
She moved to London in quest of better chances after her success in Melbourne. Her debut in the Princes’ Hall in 1886, however, did not go over well.
Nellie Melba then moved to Paris to study with Mathilde Marchesi, who recognized her promise right away. She made quick progress, and impresario Maurice Strakosch gave her a ten-year contract at 1000 francs per year within a year.
She received a better offer from the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels almost immediately, for 3000 francs per month. Strakosch, on the other hand, forbade her from accepting it. When Strakosch died unexpectedly, she recovered her freedom.
She made her opera debut as Gilda in ‘Rigoletto’ on October 12, 1887, at La Monnaie, followed by Violetta in ‘La Traviata’ a few nights later. Around this period, she began using the moniker ‘Melba.’
She made her stage debut in the title role of ‘Lucia di Lammermoor in London’s Covent Garden in May 1888. Her performance was met with a lukewarm reception. She departed England after being turned down for a lower role in the next season. She made her debut as Ophélie in Hamlet at the Opéra de Paris in 1889.
Her powerful ally in London, Lady de Grey, begged her to return soon after. She agreed and was cast in the Covent Garden production of ‘Roméo et Juliette.’
She then went on to play the parts of Ophélie, Lucia, Gilda, Juliette, and Marguerite in Paris. Her French pronunciation was poor, but composer Delibes was pleased with her singing. She went on to perform at the top European opera houses of Milan, Berlin, and Vienna during the next few years.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Lucia di Lammermoor in December 1893. Her performance was met with a lukewarm reception. Her later performance in ‘Roméo et Juliette’, however, was a success, establishing her as the leading prima donna of her time, succeeding Adelina Patti.
She began performing in Covent Garden in the 1890s, primarily in lyric soprano roles. In Herman Bemberg’s ‘Elaine’ and Arthur Goring Thomas’s ‘Esmeralda,’ she sang the title parts.
Gilda in Rigoletto, Desdemona in Othello, Nedda in Pagliacci, Violetta in La traviata, Mimi in La bohème, and other Italian parts. Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, Marguerite in Faust, the title part in Saint-Saens’ Hélène (written for her), Micala in Carmen, and so on were among her French roles. She gladly accepted the part of the second donna in some of these roles.
She was a celebrity in both Britain and America at the turn of the century. In 1902–03, she returned to Australia for a concert tour and also visited New Zealand. The profits were so good that she went on to do four more tours later in her career.
She popularized Puccini’s ‘La bohème’ in the United Kingdom; she first performed the role of Mimi in 1899 after studying it with the composer. Despite the opposition of the Covent Garden management, she firmly backed the creation of the work. The public’s reaction finally proved her right.
In the twentieth century, her appearances in Covent Garden, her “artistic home,” decreased. This was due to her antipathy for Sir Thomas Beecham, who ran Covent Garden from 1910 until her retirement. Second, she had to perform alongside her younger but successful soprano, Luisa Tetrazzini, and third, she decided to spend more time in Australia.
She did a “sentimental tour” of Australia in 1909, visiting several remote places. She also bought land in Coldstream, a tiny town near Melbourne, and erected a house there called ‘Coombe Cottage’ two years later.
She started a music school in Richmond at the same time, which she ultimately amalgamated with the Melbourne Conservatorium. She collaborated with the J. C. Williamson Company for an opera season in Australia in 1911.
She actively raised £100,000 for war organizations during the First World War. In March 1918, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) “for contributions in the organization of patriotic action.”
She returned to the Royal Opera House triumphantly after the war with a performance of ‘La bohème.’ After nearly four years of closure, the house was reopened.
In 1922, she went to Australia for the second time, performing at the wildly popular ‘Concerts for the People in Melbourne and Sydney. The tickets were inexpensive, and 70,000 people attended.
She had her last performance at Covent Garden in 1926, singing excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and La bohème.
She had a never-ending string of ‘farewell’ appearances in Australia, including theatre performances in the mid-1920s and concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong from 1928 to 1930.
She returned to Europe for the last time in 1929 before visiting Egypt, where she contracted a lingering fever. Her final performance was at a charity concert in London on June 10, 1930.
She aided the careers of several young singers and taught at the Melbourne Conservatorium for many years, looking for a “new Melba.” She even wrote a book on her techniques.
Her Major Projects
Over the course of her career, she has played 25 roles, only ten of which are strongly linked with her. Marguerite in Gounod’s ‘Faust and Mimi in Puccini’s ‘La bohème’ were two of her most frequently performed parts, both of which she studied under the composer’s guidance.
‘Melodies and Memories,’ her autobiography, was published in 1925 and was primarily ghostwritten by her secretary Beverley Nichols.
Achievements and Awards
Melba was awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918 and upgraded to Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1927 for her humanitarian work during World War I. In April 1927, she was the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
She is one of only two vocalists honored with a marble bust on the Royal Opera House’s grand staircase in Covent Garden, London.
In 1956, the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music was renamed Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music.
Personal History and Legacy
Melba married Charles Nesbitt Frederick Armstrong in Brisbane on December 22, 1882. George, the couple’s son, was born on October 16, 1883. The marriage ended in divorce because Charles allegedly beat his wife. After a year together, the couple divorced.
She had an affair with Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans, in the early 1890s. When they were frequently seen together, Charles sued for divorce, accusing the Duke of adultery as well. Despite the fact that Charles subsequently dropped the case, the scandalized Duke went on a two-year African safari without Melba, and the couple’s love withered. Charles and Melba finally divorced in 1900 in Texas.
She returned to Australia near the end of her life. She died of septicemia at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney on February 23, 1931. She was buried in the Lilydale Cemetery near Coldstream after an elaborate burial at Scots Church in Melbourne.
Estimated Net worth
Nellie is one of the opera singers with the most money and is on the list of the most popular opera singers. According to our research and information from Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider, Nellie Melba is worth about $20 million.
Her name is associated with foods such as Peach Melba, Melba toast, etc. created in her honor by the French chef Auguste Escoffier.