Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931)
I've put this video together, as much as anything, to gather up all the tiny fragments of film footage that exist of the great Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931). The first audio track I've used is one selected from a number of original masters recently discovered in a vault in Hamburg, Germany, in 1904. Choosing 'Swing low, sweet chariot' may initially seem strange when the great diva made a large range of recordings of, shall we say, more 'elevated' music. But it is in this master in particular that Melba seems very up close and personal to the microphone - she is so clear and 'there' that you can hear subtleties and qualities in her voice that were not accessible till now. This may in part be due to the fact that it was recorded at home - Cumberland Place - with only the piano accompaniment of Ronald Landon. And that the lesser dynamics of such a song, with respect to many operatic arias, means the singer did not need to step or be away from the microphone to prevent the distortions on disc involved with large volume, particularly with high notes. The master was made only to be heard for her father, and so this early recording has not been heard before. The second audio track is the initial part of her Farewell Speech at Covent Garden in 1926 and gives a sense of her speaking voice. You note as you listen that Melba is a strong and confident public speaker - she is in command the proceedings. Heatherington tells in his biography that at one point during the speech Melba broke down into tears and the curtain was drawn. She yelled at the stage hands something like 'Open them back up!' - and began to gently sob again.