Melba (soprano, real name Helen Porter Mitchell) was born
near Melbourne, Australia, in 1861. After making some local
concert appearances she began a year's study in Paris under
the highly respected Mathilde Marchesi (whose daughter,
Blanche, later became a formidable interpretative singer).
Her debut the following year, as Gilda in Rigoletto
(Verdi) brought her immediate recognition. Her tone and
impressive technique made her famous from the start, though
her artistic judgement developed more slowly. She appeared
at La Scala, The New York Metropolitan and Chicago, and
became most associated with London's Covent Garden, where
she appeared during most seasons from her debut there in
1888 until the first World War.
Her voice was not particularly powerful, and unsuited to
Wagner and the heavier roles, but she was particularly
effective in lighter roles such as Desdemona in
Otello (Verdi) and particularly her favourite role,
Mimi in La Boheme (Puccini). Two roles were written
specially for her - Elaine (Bemberg) and
HelÚne (Saint-SaŰns), though these operas
are forgotten today.
She continued singing until 1926, when she made two
farewell appearances in London, at the Albert Hall and
Covent Garden (the latter, a highly emotional occasion, was
recorded); her final farewells were in Sydney and Melbourne
in 1928. She died in Sydney in 1931.
(Le Roi D'Ys) (Lalo) HMV
03072 recorded July, 1906 (2MB)
Melba made many recordings, most of them fairly late in
her career when her voice was past its best. This one shows
better than most the purity and light, floating quality of
the voice. It has been transferred at 76rpm, the speed
indicated in the 1914 HMV catalogue. There is some wear in
the first few seconds, after that it settles down. The label
helpfully indicates the key as A flat (transposed down a
semitone from the score's pitch in deference to her age) and
76 rpm brings the pitch out just slightly flat of that in
modern concert pitch, which seems reasonable. The record has
Melba's own lilac-coloured label - click here
to see it. Incidentally the aria has been somewhat adapted for her - in
the opera it's actually sung by the tenor and chorus.
If you would like to download
this recording you can do so from this page.