Melba (1861-1931) was Australia’s first international superstar of opera, her voice and charisma captivating audiences, royalty and the finest composers of the age. She had studied scores personally with Saint-Saens, Gounod, Massenet, Delibes, Verdi and Puccini.
Although earlier recordings (1890’s) had been made previous to this set of 1904, Melba hated the result and had them destroyed. But these surviving recordings (which convinced Melba to record further) were from the flat-disc technology and had replaced the cylinder type.
In 1904, Melba who was 42, was in her prime performing years. These subsequently re-discovered recordings which have survived were taken from the original metal masters and released for the first time on CD. They are complete with hisses and crackles, and even someone speaking in the background at times. Melba had insisted she record at her home in London, at 30 Great Cumberland Place and not at some ‘laboratory’.
As a soprano of renown, Melba as can be heard here on these recordings had a remarkable voice with great facility and intonation. The coloratura work is as good as most singers today who grace the operatic stage. The accompanist, Landon Ronald (later Sir Landon) was significant in his accurate and sympathetic support of Melba on piano.
There are 17 tracks here, including the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti), Caro nome from Rigoletto (Verdi), Sempre libera from La traviata (Verdi), Porgi, amor from The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), along with some gems which one can imagine were sung at her hundreds of concerts throughout Europe and Australia, such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Comin’ thro’ the Rye.
This CD is accompanied by detailed, scholarly and highly readable liner notes, describing the fascinating history of these recordings and offering unique insights into Melba’s life and work. As well, there is even a short history of the varying accepted tuning regulations between Europe and England (and her then Empire) and the resultant difficulties some singers had from time to time in reaching some upper notes. In addition, there are no less than 25 monographs or journal articles cited in the select bibliography.