Melba the toast of the North

Townsville Bulletin - - LIFESTYLE - Dr Dorothy Gib­son- Wilde

AT THE end of July Townsville’s own Aus­tralian Fes­ti­val of Cham­ber Mu­sic cel­e­brates its Sil­ver Ju­bilee, a mile­stone in the history of mu­sic in the North.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, it was in July 106 years ago, that the North­ern Miner an­nounced another “great event in the history of mu­sic in Char­ters Tow­ers”. It was the visit of Dame Nel­lie Melba and her con­cert party.

It was a great event in Townsville as well. Ev­ery­one was agog at the news that the great so­prano and her party were booked to stay at Queen’s Ho­tel and to ap­pear at His Majesty’s Theatre ( now Dance North).

Melba sang some of her best known so­los, with flute ob­bli­gato by John Lem­mone, ac­com­pa­nied by Les­lie Whit­tle at the pi­ano. Though John Lem­mone was over­shad­owed by the great Nel­lie Melba, he was one of the first Aus­tralian mu­si­cians to achieve world recog­ni­tion. His ap­pear­ance in the North was al­most as note­wor­thy as hers.

The son of a Greek mi­grant, Lem­mone was born at Bal­larat, and in 1884 made his de­but in Mel­bourne in the same con­cert as Nel­lie Armstrong who changed her name to Melba. They be­came firm friends, a friend­ship that lasted for the rest of Melba’s life. In fact they not only started their ca­reers to­gether, but also ap­peared to­gether for their last per­for­mances in 1927.

Lem­mone was well known for his as­so­ci­a­tion with Melba, but he also toured the world with great singers such as Adelina Patti, and was recog­nised as one of the great­est flautists of his time. Upon his re­turn to Aus­tralia in the 1890s, he es­tab­lished his own tour­ing com­pany and started busi­ness as a con­cert man­ager. Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Dic­tionary of Bi­og­ra­phy, he in­tro­duced to Aus­tralia sev­eral singers such as Marie Neville, and in 1904 mas­ter­minded the tour of the great pi­anist Paderewski.

When Melba toured in Aus­tralia, Lem­mone man­aged her tours and al­ways ac­com­pa­nied her on the flute. Sup­port­ing artists on the North Queens­land tour were the bril­liant Aus­tralian pi­anist and com­poser Una Bourne and the bari­tone Fred­er­ick Ranelow. They, along with the ac­com­pa­nist Fred­er­ick Whit­tle, were later well known in Eng­land, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

It is not sur­pris­ing that the con­certs re­ceived tu­mul­tuous re­cep­tions in Char­ters Tow­ers and Townsville. To­day ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy al­low us to lis­ten to Melba and Lem­mone merely by typ­ing the name “Melba” into that mar­vel­lous web­site Google. We can also at­tend reg­u­lar per­for­mances by vis­it­ing artists, as well as our own lo­cal artists and the Bar­rier Reef Or­ches­tra.

Dame Nel­lie Melba at Coombe Cot­tage in Cold­stream, 1916.

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