New Musicals Australia and Hayes Theatre Co present

Emma Matthews


Melba logo



Directed by Wayne Harrison

Book and Lyrics by Nicholas Christo

Music by Johannes Luebbers

Adapted from the book “Marvelous Melba” by Ann Blainey

 at Hayes Theatre Co From 11 August 2017


Dame Nellie Melba was the most celebrated singer of her generation. Lauded on more than three continents as a phenomenon, her life was the stuff that dreams are made of, but her journey to the top was not always untroubled.

From humble beginnings as Nellie Mitchell in Melbourne, to the stages of opera houses across Europe, MELBA charts the life of a woman who was determined to be the best in a conservative world. Melba’s life was filled with triumph and tragedy, stardom and shame – a story that is little known beyond her stellar career.  Starring Emma Mathews, MELBA will play Hayes Theatre Co from August 11.

Nellie Melba performs tirelessly to rise as opera’s greatest star. Upon her entering Europe’s glittering social circles Nellie is quickly romanced by the dashing heir to the French throne, the Duc D’Orleans.   With her lover and child firmly by her side it looks as though nothing can stop Melba…until her husband learns of her affair.

“Back in 2009 I was lucky enough to stumble across the biography I AM MELBA (Also known as MARVELOUS MELBA) by Ann Blainey, and it would come to change my life,” said writer Nicholas Christo.  “It was so eye opening to discover a modern, feisty heroine light years ahead of her antiquated age; I knew that I had to write about this pioneering spirit.”

Australia’s Wayne Harrison returns to Sydney to direct this new musical.  “I’ve always been a Melba fan,” says Wayne. “As a kid I thought it was cool that you could have a dessert named after you. As a dramaturg I thought it was extra cool that one of her boyfriends was the first Australian playwright to have his work produced on Broadway. As a director I welcome the opportunity to discover Melba as a ‘New Woman’ and a mother, juggling both at the turn of a new century, just as Australia became a Federation and her son, raised by hand or by proxy, became a symbol of what this new nation might be. As a coda, the things that keep me in Melba’s orbit: she was a great singer, she always remained Australian, and she was a superstar, long before the word had been invented.”

Dame Nellie Melba was born Helen Porter Mitchell at the family home Doonside at Richmond Victoria on May 19, 1861.   While at Leigh School and later Presbyterian Ladies College, Nellie showed great promise playing the organ, piano and singing.  Encouraged by teachers and family, Nellie took singing lessons which she continued afterwards with Pietro Cecchi, an Italian singer living in Melbourne.

In the legendary role of MELBA, Emma Mathews will make her Musical Theatre debut.  “I’m honoured to be playing the role of Dame Nellie Melba, such an iconic artist, incredible singer, and fascinating woman,” said Ms Mathews.

Emma Matthews headshot

Emma Matthews is a highly acclaimed and awarded soprano having received more Helpmann Awards than any other individual artist, nine Green Room Awards, the Mo Award and the Remy Martin Australian Opera Award.  Emma Matthews, a regular guest with Opera Australia, state opera companies, symphony orchestras, and major festivals is Australia’s most highly awarded soprano. Career highlights include the title roles of The Cunning Little Vixen with Sir Charles Mackerras at Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and Lulu, Lakmé, Lucia di Lammermoor, Partenope and Violetta: La Traviata for Opera Australia. Emma has sung over 70 significant roles and has three solo recordings, Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo (Deutsche Grammophon / ABC Classics), Mozart arias and recently release: Agony and Ecstasy (ABC Classics), with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Other cast include Annie Aitken as the younger Nellie, Michael Beckley, Caitlin Berry, Blake Erickson, Adam Rennie and Samuel Skuthorp.

Following the death of her mother on October 21, 1881 Nellie went with her father, a builder to Mackay in Queensland where she met and married Charles Armstrong, the youngest son of Frances Fullerton of Hampshire, England and British MP Sir Andrew Armstrong of Gallen Priory in King’s County  (Offlay) Ireland. Their only child George was born at Marian, Queensland the following year.

Returning to Melbourne, Nellie took up singing lessons again and travelled to England with her father, son and husband in 1886. Armed with letters of introduction, she auditioned for famed singing teacher Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. Recognising her voice and talent, Marchesi accepted Melba on as a student and the following year on October 13, 1887 Mrs Armstrong, now Madame Melba made her operatic debut at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Rigoletto.

“Nellie Melba’s name and legacy are ubiquitous in Australian culture, with suburbs, buildings and parks named after her, yet many are unaware of her fascinating story,” said composer Johannes Leubbers.  “Nicholas Christo and I began adapting Melba for the stage in 2010, exploring the story of the woman against the background of the legend and highlighting this important part of Australian cultural history. We are thrilled to be working with the Hayes and this incredible cast.”


Blending contemporary music theatre with operatic arias, MELBA brings to life a woman we know so well, yet not at all.



Book & Lyrics by Nicholas Christo

Music by Johannes Luebbers

Directed by Wayne Harrison

Musical  Director  Michael Tyack

Producer Kerry Comerford

Production Design Mark Thompson

Lighting Design Trudy Dalgleish

Sound Design Caitlin Porter

Technical Director Di Misirdjieff

Adapted from the book “Marvelous Melba” by Ann Blainey

Proudly supported by City of Sydney, Australia Council and SBW Foundation



New Musicals Australia and Hayes Theatre Co present Emma Matthews in MELBA

Hayes Theatre Co 19 Greenknowe Ave Potts Point

Dates: 11 August 2017

Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm

Mondays at 6.30pm

Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm

Tickets: Previews Adults $55 Concession $50

Monday to Thursday evenings Adults $60 Concession $55

Friday and Saturday evenings $65

Saturday Matinee Adults $60 Concession $55

Wednesday Matinee Adults $55 Concession $50


Bookings: or phone 02 8065 7337