Nellie Melba

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Nellie Melba
Bust in the Royal Opera House , Covent Garden, London

Nellie Melba , actually Dame Helen Porter Armstrong GBE , born Helen Mitchell (born May 19, 1861 in Richmond, Melbourne , †  February 23, 1931 in Sydney ) was an Australian opera singer ( soprano ) of Scottish origin. The stage name is a reference to Melbourne, the city of her birth.


Against the will of her father, Melba decided to pursue a career as a singer, so she only received singing lessons after she was married at the age of 22. After initial studies in her hometown of Melbourne, Melba took the finishing touches in 1886 with Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. On October 12, 1887 Melba made her debut with great success at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, initially as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto and a few days later as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata . At that time, on the advice of Marchesi, she adopted the stage name "Melba". In May 1888 she made her debut as Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the real beginning of her world career. After she had initially given guest appearances in Paris and Saint Petersburg, among others, she soon limited herself to the three most important opera houses in the world: La Scala in Milan , the Metropolitan Opera in New York and again and again the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, to which she has more than stayed connected for 20 years. There she sang the title role in Herman Bembergs Elaine , Gilda in Rigoletto , the title role in Aida , Desdemona in Otello , Luisa in Pietro Mascagnis I Rantzau , Nedda in Pagliacci , Rosina in Der Barbier von Sevilla , Violetta in La traviata and Mimi in La Bohème . From the French repertoire she sang Juliette in Gounods Roméo et Juliette , Marguerite in Faust , Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots , Micaëla in Carmen and the title role in the opera Hélène , which Camille Saint-Saëns had written especially for her.

Until 1926 she celebrated worldwide success as a coloratura soprano with an exceptionally large vocal range (b-f '' '), especially in operatic roles by Giuseppe Verdi (who still rehearsed Gilda , Aida and Desdemona with her ), Gioacchino Rossini ( Rosina , Semiramide ), Gaetano Donizetti (Lucia), Charles Gounod (Marguerite), Giacomo Puccini (Mimi), Ruggero Leoncavallo (Nedda) and Richard Wagner (Elsa, Elisabeth). In 1926 she retired as director of the Melbourne Conservatory from active singing.

In her time she was considered the first prima donna in the world. In 1918, Nellie Melba was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by the British Crown and was thus elevated to the British knighthood, in 1927 she became Dame Grand Cross of the same Order (GBE). The Australian polar explorer Douglas Mawson named the Melba Peninsula in Antarctica after her. In 1989 she was posthumously honored with induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame .

Private life

On December 22, 1882, she married Charles Nesbitt Frederick Armstrong, son of the 1st Baronet Armstrong of Gallen . A son emerged from the marriage. One of her great-grandchildren is Samuel George Armstrong Vestey, 3rd Baron Vestey .

Peach Melba

From 1892 to 1893 the "Australian nightingale" Melba stayed at the Savoy Hotel in London. After a premiere of the opera Lohengrin in 1892, the chef Auguste Escoffier created a special dessert: a skinned peach and two scoops of vanilla ice cream, covered with a raspberry veil, represent the pose of the mythical swan from Act 1. The artist liked this so good that she gave her permission to call the dish “Péche Melba” ( peach melba ) from now on. The Melba toast was also named after her.


  • Nellie Melba: Melodies and Memories . Doran Company, New York NY 1926 (Also reprinted by AMS Press, New York 1971).
  • Joseph Wechsberg : Red plush and black velvet. The great Melba and her time . Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1964 (English: Red Plush and black velvet. The story of Dame Nellie Melba and her times . Rororo TB 697).

Web links

Commons : Nellie Melba  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e Clive Unger-Hamilton, Neil Fairbairn, Derek Walters; German arrangement: Christian Barth, Holger Fliessbach, Horst Leuchtmann, et al .: The music - 1000 years of illustrated music history . Unipart-Verlag, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-8122-0132-1 , p. 149 .
  2. Jürgen Kesting : The great singers . Claasen, Düsseldorf 1986, volume 1, p. 139
  3. ^ ARIA Hall of Fame. Australian Recording Industry Association , accessed August 6, 2017 .
  4. Helen Porter Mitchell on , accessed February 2, 2017.
  5. ^ Samuel George Armstrong Vestey, 3rd Baron Vestey on , accessed February 2, 2017.