The launch of Melba’s Will

When Dame Nellie Melba died in 1931, her will emphasised the purpose of her legacy gift: it was to be a scholarship to support a young singers’ development “in the hope that another Melba may arise”. This aspiration shaped the values and activities of Melba Opera Trust today, embodying the true impact of a legacy.

Since then, Melba Opera Trust has built successfully on her vison by establishing endowed, perpetual scholarships, complemented by a robust annual giving program. In 2013 Melba launched the capstone of any responsible organisation striving for sustainability, its bequest program Melba’s Will. It was announced fittingly in the music room at Dame Nellie’s own Coombe Cottage, with a gathering of about forty of the Melba’s major benefactors.

“Not only does Melba provide the right knowledge and experience at the right time, but this information is provided by mentors of international standing. It is this combination of content, international standard and timing that make the Melba Opera Trust program unique, outstanding and successful.”

– Patricia Armstrong-Grant OBE, 2013

The aim of Melba’s Will is to encourage supporters to leave their own legacy to Melba Opera Trust, by contributing to the endowment, establishing their own perpetual fund, directing support towards one of the Melba programs – Mentor, Performance, Indigenous, Repetiteur – or contributions to an existing scholarship. The ultimate motivation, of course, is to ensure that the work of Melba Opera Trust is sustained for future generations of exceptional young artists.

The program has been championed by benefactor Dr Patricia Armstrong-Grant OBE, who announced at the launch her own intention to endow a perpetual scholarship via bequest. “The Melba Mentor Program, in my opinion, delivers to singers tailored knowledge and experience,” she said.

Patricia’s confidence in Melba led directly to her generous decision to establish the scholarship and several generous supporters have followed her lead.

Melba’s Will Bequest Circle

Dr Patricia Armstrong-Grant OBE

Michael Bertram

Garry A Fehring

Ian & Dale Johnson

Mary-Jane Joscelyne OAM

Ann McFarling

Diane Morris

Mary Ryllis Clark

Anonymous (3)

Aria Trifecta

Following Brenton Spitieri’s success from the previous year, Melba alumni again stole the Herald Sun Aria stage, taking out the trifecta: Stacey Alleaume winning first place, Samuel Sakker was awarded second and third place went to Nathan Lay.

Panayiota Kalatzis

In following years, Melba winners have included Fiona Jopson (2015) and Panayiota Kalatzis (2016).

Fiona Jopson

Melba alumni have also enjoyed great success with winning other major singing competitions and awards around the country including:

Stacey Alleaume

the Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship (formerly the McDonalds Aria), Opera Foundation for young Australians, IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition, Australian International Opera Award and the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation Bel Canto Competition.


The inaugural repetiteur scholarship, awarded in 2013, was made possible due to a significant three-year grant provided by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. It had long been a desire of Melba Opera Trust to invest in the important role that is played by the repetiteur in operatic preparation.

Adam McMillan with Mentor Johannes Fritzsch

Then CEO of Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, Andrew Brookes, recognised its value immediately: “Repetiteurs possess a set of performance, musicianship, teaching and coaching skills. We know there are excellent graduate pianists in Australia, but few professional repetiteurs and a lack of specialised training. In supporting this scholarship, we believe the Melba will be equipped not only to develop a pool of talented repetiteurs, but to assist its singing scholars to achieve a higher standard of performance.”

One of Australia’s finest coaches, and Melba’s Artistic Manager, Sharolyn Kimmorley AM, has close involvement in the mentoring of this scholarship.

“A repetiteur requires extra skills. You have to have all the pianistic techniques and musicality, but replicating an orchestral score is a particular art. I will be working with recipients on this.”

– Sharolyn Kimmorley AM

The inaugural recipient of the scholarship, Amir Farid, was excited at the prospect of developing his skills to prepare and support singers, along with his language skills. Since his two years with Melba, Amir has relocated to USA where he is now on music staff at the Julliard School of Music.

Second to receive scholarship support was Stefan Cassomenos, followed by Simon Bruckard, Jonathan Wilson and Adam McMillan. Following the initial scholarship grant, Melba continued to raise funds to secure this important pathway for aspiring opera repetiteurs in Australia. This is helped significantly by the Margaret Schofield Opera Scholarship.

Kyla Allan with Amir Farid

Stefan Cassomenos


A Sydney debut

Dame Heather Begg DNZM OBE

Nicholas Jones

With the Melba program becoming increasingly national, the Melba Board focused on expanding its events into Sydney. Melba’s Sydney debut coincided with another very important announcement: the launch of the Dame Heather Begg Memorial Award.

Created by the world-renowned mezzo-soprano, this award was established by bequest. In December 2013, friends of Dame Heather Begg together with supporters of Melba Opera Trust gathered at Elaine, the historic Fairfax estate in Sydney, to celebrate its launch.

“[Dame Heather] never stopped learning, and dedicated all her concentration and energy to every role… she knew that the music and drama could only come alive if she was prepared, technically secure and able to be flexible.”

– Moffatt Oxenbould AM, 2013

The Award has been designed to provide funding to a suitable young singer from Australia or New Zealand who has already taken successful first steps in a professional principal career, and who would benefit artistically from having access to funds for travel and tuition to refine and mature an already evident talent.

During her long operatic career, Dame Heather was associated with many of the world’s finest conductors, directors, coaches and singers, and her inspiring legacy led the executors of her estate, Moffatt Oxenbould AM, Dame Heather Begg’s partner Joe Diflo and lawyer Katherine Grinberg, to create a structure that would reflect Dame Heather’s express wishes and her own career as authentically as possible. This Award hopes to instill her values in others.

Melba Opera Trust was approached by the Trustees to administer the Award after being identified as an organisation that shared similar ideas and aspirations.

The inaugural recipient of the Dame Heather Begg Memorial Award was Melba Conservatorium alumni, Samuel Dundas, who is a principal artist with Opera Australia and other state opera companies. Subsequent recipients include Janet Szepei Todd, Jeremy Kleeman, Amina Edris, Emily Edmonds and Lauren Fagan.

Janet Todd

We are proud to announce that the 2019 recipient of the Dame Heather Begg Memorial Award is accomplished tenor Nicholas Jones.

An international touch

The Melba’s growing global network has worked in both directions and 2013 was graced with impressive developments here and abroad. As the Melba has grown, scholars have garnered increasing international successes at prestige competitions, opera houses and educational settings.

Through the Melba’s careful attention to its mentor program, the organisation’s artistic integrity has been bolstered considerably in providing scholars with exclusive access to some of the world’s most accomplished artists, conductors and repetiteurs for vocal master classes and private coaching. This enables scholars to gain precious insights into the business of opera, extend their professional networks and expand their development as freelance artists.

Welsh baritone Sir Bryn Terfel CBE was the first of several guests from abroad in 2013, conducting a session with scholars, and he was followed during the year by a master class and discussion with UK soprano Susan Bullock CBE.

2013 Scholars with Susan Bullock CBE

Other mentors included Teddy Tahu-Rhodes, Peter Coleman-Wright AO, Covent Garden Director Andrew Sinclair and international conductor Marko Letonja along with ‘repeat performances’ from Yvonne Kenny AM, Cheryl Barker AO, Stuart Skelton, New York director Chuck Hudson and European repetiteur Semyon Rozin.

The opportunity for our scholars to work with these experienced artists in master class and private coaching has become invaluable; the scholars have the chance to learn from the career experiences of these mentors, who generously share reflections from their own career paths and provide valuable insights to scholars understanding of the industry.The Melba’s Mentor Program was designed to fill a significant gap that existed in the spectrum of artist training in Australia, demonstrating the mission to inspire excellence, realise potential and forge careers. This has been borne out in the continuing successes of scholars abroad, and 2013 was a bountiful year: Siobhan Stagg made her house debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin singing the Rhinemaiden Woglinde in the first installment of Wagner’s Ring, and she was also awarded first place in the 2013 Stuart Burrows International Voice Competition inWales. Meanwhile, Lauren Fagan won the 2013 Patrick Libby Prize for most improved dramatic work at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and was accepted into the Banff Centre’s Opera as Theatre program. And while Samuel Sakker performed in New Zealand Opera’s La traviata, Samuel Dale Johnson prepared to take his place in the Jette Parker Young Artist Program in 2014.

Continuing a family tradition

In 2013 the Hon. Saffron Foster became Melba Opera Trust’s Honorary Patron, continuing a long family tradition of patronage for the Melba. Saffron’s great-greatgrandmother, Dame Nellie Melba, herself acted as Patron of the Melba Conservatorium, passing the role to her daughter-in-law Evie Armstrong, followed by her granddaughter, Pamela, Lady Vestey.

The announcement was celebrated with a reception and soirée at Coombe Cottage. Jenny Sutherland, also a descendant of Dame Nellie Melba and Director of the Board for 31 years, summed up the appointment perfectly: “Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust is so privileged to have the Hon. Saffron Foster as its Patron. Saffron is a very dear, sensitive, fun-loving young mother of four children. She will be a great support and we are very lucky. Her patronage is music to my ears.”

While residing in the UK, Saffron regularly visits Australia to attend and host Melba events. She has arranged several occasions at Stowell Park Estate, Lord Vestey’s estate in the UK, attended performances featuring Melba alumni living abroad and next year plans to organise a Melba garden party at Coombe, reminiscent of the fundraising afternoons hosted by her grandmother and great-great grandmother.

Image: the Hon. Saffron Foster with Emily Edmonds


Emily Edmonds

Rebecca Gulinello

Leilah Fox

Samuel Johnson

Brenton Spiteri

Christian Gillett

Robert Barbaro

Tiriki Onus

Panayiota Kalatzis

Matthew Reardon

Amir Farid

Dame Nellie Melba Scholarship

Patrick & Vivian Gordon Award

Amelia Joscelyne Memorial Scholarship

Margaret Schofield Opera Scholarship

RJ Hamer Opera Scholarship

John & Elizabeth Wright-Smith Scholarship

Beleura-Tallis Opera Scholarship

Opera Society Vocal Scholarship

Harold Blair Opera Scholarship

Ruskin Opera Award

Mel & Nina Waters Award

Opera Arts Support Group Award

Repetiteur Scholarship

The articles contained within this page were curated and compiled from previous editions of Melba Opera Trust publications da capo and The Melba.