These pages will be home for those interesting facts and incidents of Melba’s life that may have been long forgotten.
During her life, Melba owned various vehicles both in Australia and overseas. Identifying the makes and models of her cars is an on-going project and I am grateful for the help I have received from car enthusiasts around the world.
The link below will take you to photos and information about her cars.
On and Off the Stage
A lot can happen at the opera both behind and on the stage
The Opera Must Go On Melba’s debut at the Paris Opera as Ophelie in Hamlet was delayed several times as Madame Richard who was playing the Queen, had been ill. On the day of her debut on Wednesday, May 8, 1889, Jean Lassalle who was to play Hamlet, suffered laryngitis so Melba had to appear with a Hamlet she had not seen or worked with before. (N. Melba, Melodies and Memories, Thornton Butterworth Ltd, London, 1925, pg 58)
It Takes Two to Sing Duets
In her first performance of Lucia di Lammermoor of her debut season at the Paris Opera in May 1889 Melba’s, principal tenor Signor Cossira was suffering an acute cold, and in Melba’s words, his voice was pitiful, hoarse, flat and breathless.
There was a full house so Melba sang his recitatives but the curtain had to come down when it came to the duets.
Melba had given singer and friend M. Engel two tickets to the performance and he was sitting at the front. He had sung that role in Brussels so Melba suggested the directors ask him to sing.
After a 20-minute delay, the opera continued with Melba and Engel. (A. Murphy, Melba: A Biography, Doubleday, Page & Co, New York, 1909, pg 34-35.)
French Isn’t Italian
Melba’s first performance at Covent Garden was in Rigoletto on June 6, 1889 when Jean Lassalle in his first appearance as the jester.
The Times reported M. Lassalle’s performance was fine except he sang in French while Melba sang in Italian. (Ref: The Times, London, Monday, June 10, 1889 pg 8.)
Fire in the Wings
During a performance of Faust in 1889 Melba averted a serious accident at Covent Garden.
During the first act, one of the wings in the study scene caught fire and a sheet of flame was visible to the audience. Before everyone panicked, Melba stepped forward, reassured everyone and the fire was put out.
After the fire was controlled, the opera continued. (A. Murphy, Melba: A Biography, Doubleday, Page & Co, New York, 1909, pg 49.)
Fostering Music and Opera in Australia
While Melba had to battle for acceptance overseas, she was determined to help fellow Australians who had the potential so threw her weight behind the development of conservatoriums in Australia and Melbourne in particular.
On November 26, 1909 Melba laid the foundation stone for the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music.
In 1913 the Governor-General, Lord Denman, opened Melba Hall, the concert area built with the funds raised by Melba. Many aspiring singers had their chance to work with Melba as from April 12, 1915, she gave singing class at the Albert Street Conservatorium in Melbourne. (Sue Thompson & Wanda McPherson, Melba: Important Dates of her Life pgs 9-11.)
Pêche Melba and Other Delicacies
Other than singing, Melba is well remembered for two things – Melba Toast and Pêche Melba. Both were prepared for her by famous European chefs, and named after her as a tribute to her wonderful voice.
Today, Pêche Melba is still served in restaurants around the world, though the recipe may vary. Melba describes how Pêche Melba came into being:
I was lunching alone in a little room upstairs at the Savoy Hotel on one of those glorious mornings in early spring when London is the nearest approach to paradise that most of us ever attain. I was particularly hungry, and I was given a most excellent luncheon.
Towards the end of it there arrived a little silver dish, which was uncovered before me with a message that Mr. Escoffier had prepared it specially for me. And much as Eve tasted the first apple, I tasted the first Pêche Melba in the world.
” It’s delicious,” I said. “Ask Mr. Escoffier what it is called.”
Word came back that it had no name, but that Mr. Escoffier would be honoured if he might call it Pêche Melba. I said that he might with the greatest pleasure, and thought no more of it. But very soon afterwards, Pêche Melba was the rage of London.
Escoffier is an artist in his own materials if ever there was one. I once tried to calculate exactly how much he would have made had he charged a royalty of one penny on every dozen Pêche Melba that were consumed, but I gave it up when I realized that it would total many millions of pounds.
And not only was he the originator of Pêche Melba but of Poire Melba [Pears Melba], Fraises Melba [Strawberries Melba], and all the other dishes that followed in its train.
I have told this story in full because I am always receiving messages from chefs in hotels all over the world, that they were the originators of Pêche Melba. Whether they think that my memory is particularly short, or whether they imagine I am merely a fool, I don’t know, but I have had quite fierce arguments about it. Only the other day, in Paris, Escoffier came to me in great concern saying that some American journalist had published a story in which he (Escoffier) was reputed to have denied calling his creation after me, or denied creating it at all – I forget which.
It does not matter, but I think we should give credit where credit is due. And it certainly is due to Escoffier. (Nellie Melba, Melodies and Memories, Thornton Butterworth Ltd, London, 1925, pgs 232-232)
6 ripe peaches
Light vanilla syrup (3 cups water, ¾ cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla)
Raspberry sauce (1 tblspn lemon juice, 1 cup raspberries, 2 tblspn sugar)
Vanilla ice cream
Gently poach peeled peaches in light syrup for five minutes. Place 2 peach halves in a glass dish. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle over with raspberry sauce.
Like many international stars, at one time in her career Melba was concerned about eating foods that were high in fats. Her favourite New York restaurant, Delmonico’s, was aware of her desire to loose weight and prepared very thin, lightly toasted bread for the famous diva. Melba was delighted.
8 Slices White or brown bread
Preheat the grill to high and toast the bread lightly on both sides. Cut off the crusts, then holding the toast flat, slide the knife between the toasted edges to split the bread. Cut each piece into 4 triangles, then toast under the grill, untoasted sides uppermost, until golden and the edges curl. Serve warm. Alternatively make earlier in the day and warm for a short time in the oven at 170 C / 325 F / Gas 3 before serving.
Reference: Great British Cookbook – Melba Toast
An Entertainer of the Century
On the 77th anniversary of Melba’s death on February 19, 1931, Melba’s statue at Docklands in Melbourne was unveiled. Melba joins Kylie Minogue, John Farnham and Graham Kennedy as part of the entertainers of the century project. The statue was created by Melbourne sculptor Peter Corlett and features Melba in a a long pearl-encrusted ball gown. (Herald Sun February 23, 2008 pg 17)
Tunnel named in Melba’s Honour
On March 24, 2008, the Victorian Government announced inbound Eastlink tunnel under the Mullum Mullum Creek will be named Melba. The outbound link will be known as Mullum Mullum in recognition of the traditional Wurundjeri people. The names were chosen from more than 2000 entries across Victoria.