Dame Nellie Melba: the 150th
In 2011, Melba Opera Trust was proud to announce our inaugural Patrons-in-Chief, His Excellency, the Honourable Alex Chernov AO QC, then-Governor of Victoria, and Mrs Elizabeth Chernov.
Among the many celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Dame Nellie’s birthday on 19 May 1861, our new Patrons-in-Chief hosted a special reception at Victoria’s Government House.
As Ambassadors for the Melba, they would go on to raise the profile of the organisation and help support its work to carry forward Dame Nellie Melba’s vision for young singers.
The Government House event debuted the commissioned work, Nellie in Her Own Write, created by Stephen McIntyre AM, a narration of Melba’s life told in her own words drawn from her autobiography Melodies and Memories, and interwoven with signature musical pieces from Melba scholars Siobhan Stagg and Janet Szepei Todd.
In another event, at Federation Square’s BMW Edge theatre, more than 300 people enjoyed a community performance of Nellie in Her Own Write featuring scholars Angela Brun, Janet Todd, Nathan Lay and Hannah Dahlenburg.
Other anniversary celebrations included a special operatic performance at Richmond’s Dame Nellie Melba Kindergarten, a series of Melba performances accompanying talks from author of I Am Melba, Ann Blainey, the unveiling of the Melba plaque at Scots Church, and an afternoon celebration at the Athanaeum Theatre entitled Memories of Melba. Collaborations with Australia Post and the Perth Mint resulted in a special edition stamp and commemorative coin released in Nellie’s honour.
Launch of the Mentor Program
2011 introduced the beginning of the three-part program for which Melba is now renowned. Already in place was the tailored and intensive Artistic Development Program and the performance experience of Melba Artists. With the advent of the new Mentor Program, scholarship recipients were now to be supported with business skills and to work directly with leaders in the industry. This provided a fully holistic experience, nurturing all aspects of the performer and demonstrating Melba’s philosophy for young singers to be “more than a voice”.
From its outset, the Mentor Program was intended to equip scholars with practical skills and to encourage a business maturity to help drive their operatic careers.
In the pilot program of 2011, initial mentors included Yvonne Kenny AM, Cheryl Barker AO, Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini AM and artist manager Graham Pushee. The program encompassed sessions on style, presentation, public speaking, time management and networking, stage presentation in recital, legal and accounting concepts for freelance artists, media training, recording and vocal health.
Audition preparation, preparing for an agent, movement and stagecraft workshops were also part of the many seminars in which experts in a particular field – performers, conductors, coaches, business professionals – were engaged to share their skills and experience.
While 2011 was the launch of the Mentor Program, it developed in further years. Whilst in 2011, 50 sessions were piloted, by 2019, 104 sessions were being delivered.
The philosophy remains the same, however the breadth of syllabus has expanded and there is a strong focus on involving experts with international experience to help pave the way for our own scholars’ international careers.
I Am Melba
How is it that since the Melba’s inception, our young singers have been able to replicate Dame Nellie’s path so closely?
Melba expert and author of I Am Melba, Ann Blainey, wonders whether it could be the similarity between Mathilde Marchesi’s “finishing school” for prima donnas in Paris which Melba attended in 1887, and the Melba Opera Trust’s own 21st century-version of such a program. Like Melba Opera Trust, the aim at École Marchesi was to give a brilliant finish to an already well-trained voice.
When singers left Madame Marchesi’s care, they could hold their own in any opera house in Europe and in the top ranks of European society. They had opportunities
to perform, as well as communal and individual lessons, opera and music history, acting and mime classes. Deportment classes were also important, as it was there that students learned how to sit, walk and eat elegantly, as well as how to receive guests and how to keep their heads in any situation.
Just as Melba benefited from her comprehensive period of study at École Marchesi, so too have scholars over their tenure with Melba Opera Trust. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dame Nellie, they didn’t have to travel all the way to Paris for their “finishing touches”!
Melba Opera Trust is grateful to Ann Blainey for her input with this article, originally published in 2008.
In 2011, the Melba announced the appointment of Sharolyn Kimmorley AM as Artistic Advisor (now Artistic Manager and Scholar Advisor)and Chair of the Selection Panel.
Sharolyn, one of Australia’s finest coaches and accompanists, considers herself fortunate to have been guided in her early years by some of the world’s best conductors and coaches during her tenure with Opera Australia.
Sharolyn and then General Manager, Amy Black, focused on developing the three streams of Melba’s program: Artistic, Mentor and Performance.
“It’s not enough to have a good voice; you have to be the total package.”
– Sharolyn Kimmorley AM
A national Program
Humble beginnings saw the first two intakes of scholars living in Victoria, but from the outset the aspiration was to provide a national program for Australia’s most promising young singers. This was achieved in 2011, when for the first time Melba sought applications from across the country.
The selection process had been forged by this time, with applicants needing to fulfil criteria around age (21-28), experience, as well as demonstrating outstanding potential, dedication, commitment and self-motivation.
The process has remained consistent since. Each year, the selection panel is chaired by the Artistic Advisor (now Artistic Manager) Sharolyn Kimmorley AM who is joined by rotating panellists who are involved in the industry and have international experience. Often fellow panellists are singers, conductors, coaches, agents or directors. The number of scholarships awarded depends entirely on the quality of the applicants.
As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, 51 scholars have been successful in receiving Melba’s support.
WINE, CHEESE, ATMOSPHERE AT ASTOLAT
Melba Opera Trust supporters, Peter Reilly and Linton Soderholm opened their Camberwell home Astolat for a special ‘bohemian’ community occasion.
To mark the release of De Bortoli’s latest range of Melba-inspired wines, the home was temporarily transformed into Melba’s own Café Momus where guests enjoyed wine tasting of De Bortoli’s La Bohème range, matched with gourmet cheese from De Bortoli’s cheese maturation room.
Each ‘Act’ of wine was similarly accompanied by performance from the corresponding act of the opera, featuring Siobhan Stagg, Jacqueline Porter, Fiona Jopson and Janet Szepei Todd.
Melba supporters have continued to enjoy Peter and Linton’s hospitality at Astolat thanks to the variety of events that they have hosted for Melba. Most recently, guests enjoyed an evening of art song with Renaissance Tours and a master classes with Australian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton.
Appointed to Board
2011-2014 The late Lorraine Elliott
2011-present Peter Reilly
HE The Hon Alex Chernov AC QC, former Governor of Victoria and Mrs E Chernov
Sharolyn Kimmorley AM appointed Artistic Advisor and Chair of Selection Panel
Dame Nellie Melba Scholarship
Patrick & Vivian Gordon Award
Amelia Joscelyne Memorial Scholarship
Margaret Schofield Opera Scholarship
John & Elizabeth Wright-Smith Scholarship
Mel & Nina Waters Award
Beleura-Tallis Opera Scholarship
Melba Opera Trust Scholarship
Melba Opera Trust Scholarship
The articles contained within this page were curated and compiled from previous editions of Melba Opera Trust publications da capo and The Melba.