On a warm Australian evening in December 1869, a small girl stood nervously beside a stage waiting her turn to perform. A commonplace scene, there was nothing to suggest that this child would become Madame Melba, one of the great singers in the history of opera."
- ANN BLAINEY, I am Melba
In I am Melba Ann Blainey explores the fascinating life of Australia's first international superstar.
Growing up in Melbourne, Nellie Mitchell dreamed of fame, but her devout father disapproved. As a young wife and mother on the Queensland canefields, her longing for an exciting life intensified. Travelling to London and Paris, she trusted in her musical talent and hoped for a lucky break.
Within a few years, reborn as Nellie Melba, she was performing to overflowing concert halls, hobnobbing with European royalty and collaborating with some of the most renowned composers of the age. Audiences swooned over the "heavenly pleasures" of her voice, while the public showed an insatiable appetite for news of her passionate private life. Feted and chastised by critics, pursued by the press and mobbed by fans, Dame Nellie Melba was the most famous singer of her era. Blainey writes, "Melba received the kind of worship that is today reserved for pop stars . Newspapers called it 'Melba rage', or 'Melbamania', and it was fuelled by thousands of loyal fans."
Behind the scenes, Melba was a canny businesswoman, a practical joker and a superb self-publicist. When she died in Sydney - in somewhat mysterious circumstances - the nation's flags were flown at halfmast and tens of thousands turned out to pay her tribute.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jamie Moffat. Blainey's research is thorough and her writing most engaging. I would like to add that Melba also comes across as not only being generous in deed, as demonstrated by her war efforts, but as possessing great generosity of spirit. Testament to this is her love of teaching and the encouragement she gave to young singers and musicians.