Monday, July 23, 2012

What was so wonderful about Dame Nellie Melba? What can we hear today?

There have been few in operatic history that have had the following and career that was Nellie Melba's. She was the reigning queen of Covent Garden for a quarter of a century. She made sure there were no greater singers doing her roles. When she saw that Tetrazzini sang at Covent Garden she made sure she would never be there again as long as Melba was. She started making recordings in 1904 and in those you get a sense of her voice perhaps more than any of the other recordings I hear of her. I guess my point is that I feel nothing when she sings. I listen to her and I say "nice"  but nothing that makes me say "My god!"

 Was it that way in life? Was she a cold fish?  Was she lacking when it came to emotion? I have listened to the recording she made with Enrico Caruso (their only recording together) and it is dull and lifeless. I listen to the same duet with Caruso and Geraldine Farrar and it is exciting and full of life. So was she the cold fish that many say she was? I listened to one of her recordings this evening and I found it lacking and she was even a bit flat at the end.

For me I have come to the understanding that what she was, has not at all made itself apparent on her recordings.

The early recording system was not kind to sopranos mostly. A few such as Tetrazzini seems to be alive as her records play on a Victrola. Melba sounds like a hollow tone through a log. Lacking life and excitement.

For tone I can blame the recording method, but as to any kind of emotion or feeling on her records I can in fancy chill my ice cubes to her performance. Emma Eames, who was know to be cold on stage sounds even warmer than Melba.

All of this being said there had to be some thing amazing about her. Perhaps it was just her voice that did not record well or she lost the excitement of performance without an audience in the recording studio. Maybe she didn't care too much?  Perhaps the Melba on stage was not at all like the Melba in the recording studio. All I can say is you cannot have a career that was called one of the greatest and have records that are rather lackluster at best.................What ever she had, it died with her.