National Library of Australia

Dame Nellie Melba

Edwin G. Adamson (1895–1974)Portrait of Dame Nellie Melba 1927

gelatin silver photograph with ink inscription by Melba; 20.2 x 15.1cm

Pictures Collection

National Library of Australia
Portrait of Dame Nellie Melba 1927

click to enlarge this imageView in the owner's online catalogue

Discovered by Italian tenor Pietro Cecchi, critics said soprano Helen Porter Mitchell (later Dame Nellie Melba) had a ravishing voice, of flawless purity and aflame with brilliance.

Married disastrously, with one child, George, Melba claimed in a letter to Cecchi, that she was ‘as poor as it is possible for any one to be’ and needed to earn some money. ‘My husband is quite agreeable for me to adopt music as a profession’, she wrote.

Cecchi arranged Melba’s debut in Australia. In March 1886, she headed overseas, where her new teacher in Paris, Mme Mathilde Marchesi, transformed her voice.

Making her professional operatic debut in Brussels in October 1886, Melba became the supreme diva at London’s Covent Garden from 1889–1926, and was one of the first international stars captured on the new recording and broadcasting technologies of the day.

Melba was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her fundraising activities during the World War 1.

In 1924 and 1928, Melba made her famous farewell tours of Australia—hence the saying, ‘more farewells than Nellie Melba’.

Her death was international front-page news, and her funeral cortege stretched for more than a kilometre.