Melba


1h 53m 1953

Brief Synopsis

The highly fictionalized story of Nellie Melba, Australian-born soporano who rose to operatic fame in the latter part of the 19th century and who had a desert and form of dry toast (true) named after her. In her film debut, the Metropolitan opera's Patrice Munsel, plays the title role in a film that primarily strings together eight excerts from well-known operas as well as one or two lighter numbers and a montage of famous opera personalities featuring the chorus of the Covent Garden Opera and members of the Sadler Wells Ballet. The story follows the career of Melba from the time she left her father's Australian cattle ranch and a suitor to travel to Paris to get her voice training, and picks up another suitor. She debuts in Brussells and is a smash hit followed by international fame. The suitor from Australia shows up in Monte Carlo, marries her and soon is cast in the role of "Mr. Melba" until he can take it no longer and returns to Australia, while Melba decides her voice belongs to the world and sadly goes on alone.

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 7, 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 24 Jun 1953
Production Company
Horizon Pictures (G.B.) Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Walton-on-Thames, England, Great Britain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 53m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,170ft (14 reels)

Synopsis

In the late 1890s, famous opera singer Nellie Melba is invited to sing for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and her first song selection, "Comin' Thro' the Rye," evokes memories of her upbringing on a cattle ranch near Melbourne, Australia: Thomas Mitchell, Nellie's father, has arranged for her to study singing in Paris, and on the day she leaves, prayers for her happiness and success are said at the small church where she has been a soloist. Later, at the railway station, her sweetheart, Charles Armstrong, is very upset that she is deserting him. In Paris, after a mixup at her lodgings, where she is suspected of being a lady of the evening, Nellie meets Englishman Eric Walton, a young man-about-town, who invites her to dine with him. At the restaurant, Nellie sings an operatic aria for the customers, and Eric realizes that she could become a great singer and suggests she study with the legendary vocal coach Madame Mathilde Marchesi. Although Marchesi has retired and is under doctor's orders, Eric arranges to have Nellie push her bathchair during an excursion in a park and, ultimately, Nellie is able to audition for her. Despite her illness, Marchesi decides to coach Nellie, and they begin a very intense, very strict, series of lessons. One day Eric visits Marchesi's home along with Paul Brotha, director of the Brussels Opera, who listens, unannounced, as Nellie sings. Brotha wants to engage her for a performance in his theater, but as Marchesi will not permit Nellie to sing in public yet, Brotha and Nellie devise a scheme whereby she will sing for one night, then return to Paris, without Marchesi finding out. They select a stage name of Melba, derived from Melbourne, and Nellie debuts as "Gilda" in Rigoletto and is well received. Upon her return to Paris, Marchesi drills her with endless vocal scales, then reveals that she knows about her debut and is very happy for her. Marchesi then arranges for her to perform in Lucia di Lammermoor at the famous Covent Garden Opera House in London. Cesar Carlton, patrician owner of the London hotel where she is staying, welcomes Nellie and takes her to the Opera House, then leaves her on the empty stage. As she stands where all the great singers have stood, she imagines them performing: Giulia Grisi, Jean Lassalle, Charles Santley, Adelina Patti and dancer Taglioni. Later, Cesar tells her that he will be giving a party in her honor after her opening performance. However, in the excitement of her highly successful debut, she forgets about Cesar's party and goes to dinner with Eric. Cesar is furious with her as half of London was waiting for her at the party, but finally forgives her and kisses her. After appearances in Paris, Nellie performs in Monte Carlo and enjoys the attentions of both Eric and Cesar. Eric arranges for her to meet American impresario Oscar Hammerstein, who invites her to join his Manhattan Opera company, with which he is trying to break the Metropolitan's monopoly. However Charles, Nellie's former sweetheart and now a very successful cattle rancher, surprises her in Monte Carlo and sweeps her off her feet. They marry immediately, and on their honeymoon, Charles attempts to manage his interests in Australia while coming to grips with the demands of his wife's career. After performances in Milan and St. Petersburg, they return to Monte Carlo, where Hammerstein tells Charles that Nellie has rejected his contract and intends to abandon her career to return to Australia. Hammerstein asks Charles' permission to try to persuade her to continue to sing. However, in London, Charles becomes upset by reporters who regard him as "Mr. Melba," and although Nellie learns that Charles intends to return to Australia, Hammerstein convinces her that she must continue her career. After she and Charles amicably toast her upcoming conquest of New York, a heartbroken Nellie lets him depart. Nellie then leaves for Covent Garden and a performance of Roméo et Juliette . Back at Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria tells Nellie how much she enjoyed listening to music with her late husband and how difficult it is to carry on when only loneliness remains, but adds that there are greater obligations than to oneself. Nellie understands what the Queen is saying and sings again for her.

Crew

Andre Andrejew

Art Director

Dennis Arundell

Operatic excerpts Supervisor

Robert Asher

Assistant Director

Jules Barbier

Composer

Jean-françois Bayard

Composer

Ferdinand Bellan

Operatic sets

Arthur Benjamin

Addl music

Gordon Bond

Hairstylist

Joan Bridge

Technicolor Color Consultant

Olga Brook

Cont

Robert Burns

Composer

Salvadore Cammorano

Composer

Michel Carré

Composer

Lorenzo Da Ponte

Composer

Beatrice Dawson

Opera Costume

Gaetano Donizetti

Composer

S. P. Eagle

Producer

S. P. Eagle

Company

Norman Feasey

Operatic adv

Cecil R. Foster Kemp

Assistant Director

Giussepe Giacosa

Composer

Charles François Gounod

Composer

Pauline Grant

Choreography

Sophie Harris

Dress Designer

Leslie Hodgson

Sound Editing

Arthur Ibbetson

Camera Operator

Luigi Illica

Composer

John Kotze

Technicolor tech

Harry Kurnitz

Screenwriter

Doris Lee

Costume Supervisor

Bill Lewthwaite

Film Editor

Muir Mathieson

Music Director

Felix Mendelssohn

Composer

Giacomo Meyerbeer

Composer

Michael Morris

Makeup

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Composer

Norman Newell

Composer

Francesco Maria Piave

Composer

Giacomo Puccini

Composer

Gaetano Rossi

Composer

Gioachino Antonio Rossini

Composer

Edward Scaife

Director of Photography

Johann Sebastian Bach

Composer

Len Shilton

Sound

Dario Simoni

Set Decoration

E. M. Smedley-aston

Prod Supervisor

Mischa Spoliansky

Composer

G. R. Stephenson

Sound

Cesare Sterbini

Composer

John Stoll

Assistant art Director

The Covent Garden Orchestra

Played by

Giuseppe Verdi

Composer

J. H. Vernoy De Saint-georges

Composer

Film Details

Release Date
Aug 7, 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 24 Jun 1953
Production Company
Horizon Pictures (G.B.) Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Walton-on-Thames, England, Great Britain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 53m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10,170ft (14 reels)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although onscreen credits list the song "Dreamtime," it was not heard in the print viewed. According to the Variety review, the song was "a catchy pop number," which was apparently also known as "The Melba Waltz" and "Is This the Beginning of Love?" At both the New York and London openings of this film, the running time was listed as 113 minutes, although the film's U.S. pressbook gives 115 minutes. The print viewed ran 111 minutes. The film includes brief passages from the following arias: "Casta Diva" from the opera Norma; "Kaspar's Aria" from the opera Der Freischütz; "Ah! non credea" from the opera La Sonnambula; "and Adamastor, re dell'onde profonde" from the opera L'Africaine. Some sources include an aria from Lohengrin in the film's musical selections, but it was not included in the print viewed. Ballerina Violetta Elvin danced as "Taglioni" in the film.
       When the film opened in New York, it was presented on a wide screen and with three channel stereophonic sound. A May 24, 1953 New York Times article erroneously reported that "the director has so framed the picture in photography that it was possible to expand its width, despite the lessening of the vertical area this entails." However, the film was shot several months before the adoption of the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and it is obvious from viewing the film that it was intended for 1.33:1 projection. The New York presentation was doubtlessly accomplished by the projectionist simply reframing the image to accomodate "head room" and thereby losing the bottom of the frame, which usually contains little important information. A December 17, 1952 Variety news item reported that producer Sam Spiegel (credited under his pseudonym S. P. Eagle) and United Artists would share profits evenly on Melba. In the item Spiegel asserted that the film's budget of one million dollars would have been doubled if the picture had been shot in Hollywood.
       Nellie Melba (1861-1931) was born in Melbourne, Australia as Helen Porter Mitchell and is credited with being one of the principal models for today's operatic "prima donnas." She was created Dame of the British Empire in 1918 and published an autobiography in 1925. Although Melba did not appear in any films, there are several about her life. These include: Evensong (Great Britain, 1934), a fictionalized, disguised version of Melba's career, and two Australian television productions, A Toast to Melba (1980) and Melba (1988). Coloratura soprano Patrice Munsel, who portrays Nellie Melba, was born in Spokane, WA and made her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera at the age of eighteen. Melba was her only film, although she frequently appeared on television.