Ten months after staging The Rabbits, Perth has given birth to another new Australian opera, this time about Nellie Melba. Simply entitled Melba, it is a music theatre style work composed by Perth jazz musician Johannes Luebbers (now at ANU’s School of Music). Based on Ann Blaine’s 2009 biography of the singer, it focuses on the domestic battles she went through with an alcoholic husband and censorious father, both of whom tried to thwart her career.
Music critic Rosalind Appleby described Melba as “a racy, intimate and heart-rending new opera” that highlights Melba’s torn loyalties as a wife, mother and professional singer. She found Luebbers’ score “lyrical and restless” and was impressed at the bio-opera’s “thrilling speed”, although she noted that some of the singing was patchy.
Directed by Nicholas Christo and involving postgraduate students of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, the production ran on 13-19 November. “Further seasons are being planned for Sydney and New York,” writes Appleby.