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Born Helen Porter Mitchell in Richmond, near Melbourne, on 19 May 1861, Nellie was the eldest child of immigrant David Mitchell, a self-employed builder and amateur bass singer who had come from Scotland during the 1851 gold rush. Encouraged by her mother to study piano, organ and singing, during her teens, at Melbourne Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Nellie received her first serious vocal training from Ellen Christian, an English-born contralto and former pupil of the baritone Manuel García Jr., the inventor of the laryngoscope. On leaving college in 1880, she continued her studies in Melbourne with Pietro Cecchi, an Italian tenor from California who had toured Australia in Lyster’s company.

In 1882 she married Charles Armstrong, a sugar plantation owner from Brisbane. Although she bore him a son the marriage was not a happy one and soon she began to pursue her career instead, first as a pianist at society functions then as a soprano. Continuing her training with Cecchi, in Australia she earned rave notices and in 1886, on her father’s appointment as commissioner to the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London, she resolved to try her luck in Europe and went with him. In London, at that time a major cultural centre, she made little initial impact but in Paris she had the good fortune to meet the catalyst to her future success in Mathilde Marchesi (1821–1913), herself a noted ex-contralto pupil of the younger García and a celebrated teacher from whose Parisian studio had emerged a long line of sopranos schooled in the ‘Marchesi Method’. Under Marchesi’s guidance Melba made a successful début, as Gilda in Rigoletto, at the Brussels Monnaie, in October 1887.

Melba’s high-profile début at Covent Garden (as Lucia, in May 1888, in a house newly refurbished for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee season) while not artistically so unqualified a triumph, brought her both royal patronage and an entrée to high society through a patroness of the arts, Lady De Grey. From 1889 onwards Covent Garden would remain the focal point of her career and ever afterwards Melba regarded it as her artistic home, appearing in almost every annual international season until 1914, and after the First World War more intermittently until her retirement in 1926. The other prestigious débuts of her operatic phase included the Paris Opéra in 1889, La Scala, Milan, in 1892, and the Metropolitan, New York, in 1893. Additionally, she was a regular attraction at Monte Carlo and a firm favourite at major opera centres in Italy, Russia, Scandinavia and Austria.

Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF STRING PLAYERS Naxos Educational
GREAT SINGERS (1904-1952) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred
MCCORMACK, John: McCormack Edition, Vol. 2: The Acoustic Recordings (1910-1911) Naxos Historical
MELBA, Nellie: American Recordings, Vol. 2 (1909-1910) Naxos Historical
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Choral - Sacred, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MELBA, Nellie: American Recordings, Vol. 1 (1907) Naxos Historical
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Choral - Sacred, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MELBA, Nellie: American Recordings, Vol. 3 (1907-1916) Naxos Historical
Chamber Music, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MELBA, Nellie: London and Middlesex Recordings (1921-1926) Naxos Historical
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera
MELBA, Nellie: London Recordings (1904) Naxos Historical
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Choral - Sacred, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal
MELBA, Nellie: London Recordings (1904) Naxos Historical
Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Orchestral, Vocal
MELBA, Nellie: Paris and London Recordings (1908-1913) Naxos Historical
Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal, Opera, Vocal

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