Nellie Melba by Allan Drummond
Aussie Notables series. Green Barrow Publishing, 2013. ISBN
(Age: 10+) Dame Nellie Melba's success transcended the confines of the world of opera. Like Dame Joan Sutherland, her name was known to most Australians regardless of their musical tastes because they recognised that despite her international fame, she always identified with her country of birth.
Allan Drummond has used a tongue-in-cheek style to tell the story of how Helen Mitchell became the phenomenon Nellie Melba. This is a demanding subject for young readers, many of whom may not be aware of opera as a performing art, and few of whom will have seen a live performance. The author has overcome this by beginning with a reference to the Sydney Opera House, a familiar landmark, and then broadening his scope to the great opera houses of the world in which Melba sang. The influence of the singer's parents, details of her childhood, her difficult personal life as an adult and remarkable career are all explained, as are the plots of some of the operas in which she appeared. Chatty asides, references to modern popular culture and cartoons scattered throughout the text, may appeal to those readers who also enjoy the Horrible Histories. The use of cultural stereotypes as a source of humour might now be regarded as dated. The final chapter about Melba's death and legacy are written with sensitivity and skill.
Nellie Melba is a title in the Aussie Notables series, which provides brief biographies of the high achievers depicted on our currency. Allan Drummond's decision to tell their stories will help younger children to understand the gifts and determination of Australians whose contribution is so 'notable' that their faces have been chosen to become part of our daily lives.