Meeting the scholars, in style

The highlight of any new year is introducing our new scholars. In 2017 we did this in grand fashion, at three of Australia’s most historic locations featuring a scholar address from Zoe Drummond.

The first coincided with a visit from Melba’s great-great granddaughter and our Honourary Patron, The Hon. Saffron Foster and featured an intimate soiree for supporters in Melba’s music room at Coombe. For the singers, the greatest thrill was to perform in the same room where Nellie sang.

The second was at Government House Victoria, where Patron- In-Chief, Her Excellency, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria and Mr Anthony Howard AM QC, launched the year’s scholarship program with a beautiful morning reception.

Finally, scholars were introduced to Sydney with a reception at Kirribilli House. Against the backdrop of expansive gardens and a stunning harbour view, the house came alive with a stunning program delivered by current scholars and Sharolyn Kimmorley AM at the piano.

“It is a wonderful thing to have people on your side in life – to give you advice, cheer you on, guide your way. For three consecutive years, I have had the unwavering support of this amazingly unique organisation, Melba Opera Trust. In such a fierce industry, I feel so fortunate to have been taken under Nellie Melba’s wing. With a Melba scholarship, I have the time, resources, energy and direction to really fine-tune my own singing business.

Though for me, what makes Melba so particularly special is the people. The team in the Melba Opera Trust office – forever shaping the program with our best interests at heart. The mentors we meet are the best in their fields, always passionate, informed and willing to go above and beyond to help. The patrons and supporters will always put a smile on your face. They are warm, enthusiastic and genuinely interested in our developmental paths. And of course, our fellow scholars. Each of us is on our own journey, bringing new attributes to the table each year. We learn from one another, inspire one another and from what I can see, these will be lifelong friendships.”

– Zoe Drummond, 2017

Making mentoring possible

“The key to the program is that it goes beyond singing. It supports the whole singer and helps them to develop, not only professionally but also personally… anyone involved in business understands that you need to work on ALL aspects of a career to be successful.”

– Peter Reilly, 2016

Among the many exciting initiatives launched over the past decade, a passion for developing young careers lies at the core. Board Director Peter Reilly helped further this aim by establishing the Reilly & Logie-Smith Mentor Endowment.

Peter believes our Mentor Program’s unique structure and the resources it provides are the secret ingredient behind the program’s success. As Melba Opera Trust prepared to farewell retiring Chair, Robert G. Logie- Smith AM at the end of 2016, Peter held an event at his home, Astolat, and announced his $500,000 pledge to endow a fund in appreciation for Rob and his wife Sue’s legacy.

The endowment, aligned to the Mentor Program, was designed as a contributory fund, with the hope others in the Melba community would be inspired to become involved. Peter also recognised the fund would be a vehicle for donors who would like to support the Mentor Program specifically – the only one of its kind in Australia and a linchpin of Melba Opera Trust.

Peter’s benefaction reflects a deep desire to help ensure the Mentor Program is fully endowed so that its activities can be preserved for future generations of Australian artists.

Peter Reilly and Robert G. Logie Smith with Mentor Stuart Skelton and 2018 scholars

Skills for life

Among our many achievements has been the refining of our Mentor Program over time, including a full review in 2016 for implementation in 2017. As part of the process, Melba Opera Trust went to industry and alumni to learn how the structure of the program could best reflect the needs of the global industry.

The outcome was a new approach to the program, with sessions being grouped into seven key streams with sessions spread throughout the year:

  • Artistic Development

Master classes, private coaching with practising mentors

  • Languages

Regular conversational language classes, diction coaching

  • Stagecraft/Movement

Working with directors, acting classes, movement workshops

  • Wellbeing

Vocal health, time management, conflict resolution, access to performance psychologists

  • Business Development

Accounting, legal, philanthropic grant writing, negotiation etc.

  • Presentation

Public speaking, media coaching, style, etiquette etc.

  • Audition Preparation

Mock audition processes, working with agents

This approach ensures the development of the whole performer, complementing the scholars’ individual Artistic Development Programs. Sessions incorporating foreign etiquette, auditioning in different countries and visa familiarity

Fostering Reciprocity

“Once a Melba, always a Melba” is a saying that has been a building block of the Melba community since its inception, referring to the reciprocal relationships that have evolved over

time between Melba scholars, alumni and mentors.

Learning from others who have traipsed the path before has been a focus of the Melba approach and, with so many alumni now treading the boards, it has become a feature of our program.

Alumni are increasingly invited to be involved in the Mentor Program to deliver candid industry chats about their own experiences and are always very generous with sharing their contacts. With alumni spread around the globe, scholars are encouraged to reach out to their alumni contacts as a way to establish their own international connections.

Where possible, we also actively program alumni in performance with current scholars as another layer of mentoring. In 2017, the Melba delivered the annual opera night for The Australian Club, with performances by then current scholar Damian Arnold, alumna Stacey Alleaume and Melba Mentors, Peter Coleman-Wright AO and Cheryl Barker AO. Damian commented, “Having the opportunity to work with artists who are further along their respective journeys really motivates me to work on my craft.”

Stacey agreed, reflecting that the experience of performing with professional singers when she was younger “encouraged me to want to excel further and gave me inspiration, as well as goals and direction – it still has the same effect!” As with many fellow alumni, Stacey regularly features in the Mentor Program.

‘Behind the scenes’ with Yvonne Kenny AM

A Sydney master class conducted by celebrated Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny AM with Sharolyn Kimmorley AM at the piano was a highlight of the year, generously hosted by Josephine Sukkar AM and Tony Sukkar AM in their home in Bellevue Hill.

An intimate group of Sydney supporters was invited to observe the “sacred space” of a masterclass. Three Melba scholars – Bronwyn Douglass, Daniel Carison and Damian Arnold – refined their arias with Yvonne, who was described by one supporter as a “truly sparkling in her presence, yet so focussed on each scholar’s performance”.

Bronwyn summed up the challenges of master classes succinctly as very valuable exercises for both singers and audience: “They can be more daunting than live performance in many ways, because you are performing arias you are still working on… you fully expect it to be picked apart by the teacher.”

These ‘behind the scenes’ experiences are featured events for Melba donors and allow supporters to access the inner workings of the program, understand the level of preparation that is required by the artist and see first-hand the benefit of their support.


Appointed to Board

2017-present Chris Arnold AM


Zoe Drummond

Bronwyn Douglass

Samuel Piper

Cleo Lee-McGowan

Daniel Carison

Georgina Hall

Damian Arnold

Jonathan Wilson

Dame Nellie Melba Scholarship

Patrick & Vivian Gordon Award

Amelia Joscelyne Memorial Scholarship

John & Elizabeth Wright-Smith Scholarship

Joseph Sambrook Opera Scholarship

Paulette Bisley Opera Scholarship

Ruskin Opera Award

Harold Blair Opera Scholarship

Mel & Nina Waters Award

Eleanor Blakemore Opera Society Scholarship

Margaret Schofield Opera Scholarship

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