Back to Opera Vocals page
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
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
Heléne (Saint-Saëns), though these operas are
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
(Le Roi D'Ys) (Lalo)
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
Her fame was such that Peach Melba
and Melba Toast were named after her - a tribute accorded to just
a few operatic 'superstars'.
have issued a three-disc set of Melba on 81011-2.
I have not heard these transfers and list them here simply for
information. I can't guarantee they are still available.