What do a former convict, Dame Nellie Melba and a town named Dunolly have in common?

Dunolly… Population 969, located in the Victorian central goldfields.  Hardly the kind of place you’d expect to find an arts precinct, but the poster for the upcoming Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, proudly displayed in the local pub suggests otherwise. Does the town that’s famous for gold nuggets really have an appetite for opera?

After many years of performing and directing both professional and amateur shows in Melbourne, Rachel Buckley decided to pack in city life and head to central Victoria to restore a historic venue in order to create an exciting new space for the wonderfully talented Melbourne performers she grew up with. 

Rachel: Since moving to this wonderful historic property two years ago, it has been my dream to restore it and open it as a recital venue. The Dunolly goldfields Junction Hotel was licensed by former convict William Wigham – who died just as the building was completed in 1862. His young widow Ann hosted musical evenings in the Ballroom.  Ann was known as the Merry Widow of Merryburra Road.   I am following in Ann’s footsteps 150 years later and hosting music recitals and soirees in the building. The former Billiard room has been refurbished and will open for business as “The Melba Lounge”.  It was important to me that the first concert was the music and story of Nellie Melba.  Who better to perform this than Jamie Moffat, Felicity Caterer and Pam Christie?

Pictured: Jamie Moffat

TP: Why is Melba so special and why have you chosen to celebrate her?

Jamie: There are a couple of things that make Melba special and worth celebrating.  Like most singers I guess, I spend a lot of time listening to other singers, and if I had to put my hand on my heart and say who was the greatest singer of all time, it would have to be her.  That incredible technique, the glittering tone, the absolute poise and mastery of her craft – no matter how primitive the recording, you can't help but be impressed by that.  More than eighty years after her death, she is still regarded as one of the defining talents of opera, and that's quite an achievement. And the very fact that she emerged from Australia, which at the time had no resident opera company and was a pretty male dominated, rural environment, is extraordinary – that she grew from that to become the international queen of opera during its golden age also a hell of an achievement. She was a pioneer woman who wasn't going to be defined by motherhood and marriage, as most women of her time were.

TP: What items are included in the programme?

Jamie: This is a musical journey through Melba's life and tried to give a cross section of the music she knew at various times in her life – so we have all sorts of idions. Parlour songs by Arthur Sullivan, songs by F. Paolo Tosti, which were the pop hits of her day, the French art songs of Duparc and Debussy that Melba pioneered, the big operatic arias and duets from La Boheme, Faust, La Traviata and Louise that we associate with her, to the inevitable Home Sweet Home.

TP: The show is narrated. Is it her life story?

Jamie: It’s not so much her life story, though of course there are elements of that, as selected episodes in her life that shed some light on Melba as an artist and as a woman.  Often her life really did parallel the music that she sang, so the narration attempts to align the woman and the artist.

Details of the upcoming performances can be found HERE