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Remembering Dame Nellie Melba

Discover more about famed Opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, as we remember her on the 90th anniversary of her passing.

Dame Nellie Melba (19 May 1861 - 23 February 1931) was a world-renowned opera singer, celebrated for her magnificent soprano voice. We are remembering her in honour of the 90th anniversary of her passing.


Early years

Helen 'Nellie' Porter Mitchell was born in Richmond on the 19 May 1861 to David and Isabella Mitchell. She was the eldest of their children. She attended Melbourne's Presbyterian Ladies' College (PLC), where she pursued her interests in piano and singing. Following her mother's death in 1881, her family moved to Mackay, Queensland, for her father's work. 


Throughout her career, Melba conquered the stages of Paris, London, Australia and many others. While her musical training began during her school years, she worked hard to perfect it over the years. Her training continued in France under renowned singing teacher Mathilde Marchesi. France was where she launched her famed opera singing career in 1887, but Melbourne was always home. So it is no surprise that her stage name 'Melba' is a derivative of her beloved hometown 'Melbourne'. Her first visit home since travelling overseas was in 1902, with the heart of celebrations being Lilydale, Victoria. 

Personal life

In Queensland, Melba met her soon-to-be-husband Charles Armstrong. Melba and Armstrong married in Brisbane on 22 December 1882 and went on to have one son in 1883, named George. The marriage did not last, with the divorce finalised in April 1900. 

When revisiting Lilydale in 1909, Melba purchased a 60-acre property near Coldstream. After renovations and extensions by architect John Grainger, she took up house and renamed it 'Coombe Cottage'. 


In 1901, she opened the Melba Conservatorium of Music in Richmond, which would become the starting ground for many young musicians. Her international accolades were great. In 1918, Melba became a 'Dame Commander' of the British Empire, and in 1927 she received the 'Grand Cross' of the British Empire.


After an illness lasting many weeks, Dame Nellie Melba passed away on 23 February 1931 at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney. She was 69 years old. A newspaper reporting on her death stated: "The news of her death will be received with sorrow by a world which for years had been held enthralled by her marvellous voice." After her memorial service in Scotts Church Melbourne, Melba now rests at Lilydale Lawn Cemetery. Her gravestone has Mimi's words from the musical La Boheme inscribed - "Addio Sensa Rancor" (Farewell without bitterness). 

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