Legendary soprano Dame Nellie Melba was born Helen Porter Mitchell in Melbourne in 1861. She began her stage career in Brussels in 1887 and triumphed two years later at London's Covent Garden in 'Romeo et Juliette'. From that date onwards, she appeared regularly at Covent Garden and the New York Metropolitan Opera, becoming one of the highest paid singers of the day.
In 1904 she began a recording career and her records are said to have helped establish a market for the gramophone. She spent World War I in Australia and the USA giving concerts to raise funds for war charities.
Her world tours often included Australia. She reportedly advised a colleague who was about to tour Australia to 'sing 'em muck', as it was all Australians could understand. During her first tour in 1902, the takings of one Sydney concert set a world record. In Melbourne, the city she had made world famous through her stage name, thousands turned out to greet her. Melba put the newly federated Australia on the international cultural map.
In 1909 she undertook a 'sentimental tour' of Australia, performing in country towns and cities. She returned in 1911 for the first of the Melba-J C Williamson seasons, which brought to this country opera of international standard. She repeated this in 1924.
When Melba made her Covent Garden farewell in 1926, the concert programme summed up her achievements as 'years of almost monotonous brilliance'. The phrase 'more farewells than Melba' entered the vernacular around the time of her Australian farewell concerts in 1928. She died in 1931 of septicaemia after facial surgery.
Melba made her first appearance as Marguerite in 'Faust' at Covent Garden in 1899 and sang the part until her farewell season. She prepared for the part under the personal instruction of the composer Charles Gounod. It is thought that she wore this costume as Marguerite around 1910.