Helen Porter Mitchell – 'Dame Nellie Melba'
Porter Mitchell was born in Richmond, Victoria in 1861. In 1880 after leaving
school she moved with her father to Queensland. She married Charles Nisbett
Frederick Armstrong in 1882, bearing him a son. She soon grew bored and in 1884
she left her family for Melboune, to pursue a singing career. She made her Melbourne
debut as a singer that year and her European debut in Brussels in 1887, as Gilda.
In 1889 she debuted on stage in both Paris and London, her career coinciding
with Covent Garden's golden age. Having taken a stage name for her home town
of Melbourne, Melba was introduced to high society, performing for the crowned
heads of Europe. In 1890 Melba had an indiscreet affair with Phillipe, Duke
of Orleans. Melba's husband finally divorced her in Texas in 1900.
In 1902 Melba returned to Australia on a concert tour that resembled a royal tour, drawing huge crowds at train stations. Melba returned to Australia to tour in 1909 and 1911. She was active in promoting war bonds during World War I and supporting the Albert Street Conservatorium in Melbourne.
In 1924 Melba began a series of infamous 'farewell' concerts, which introduced the phrase 'doing a Melba' to the language. Her last performance was at a charity concert in London. Returning home to Australia, she became ill with fever and only made it as far as St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, where she died on the 23 February 1931 of septicaemia, which had developed from facial surgery she had undergone in Europe.
Melba was much loved in Australia and her funeral was as grand as a state funeral. She left a legacy of a few recorded performances, a glamorous image and a dessert named after her: the Peach Melba.
Dame Nellie Melba's Death Registration