As rehearsals get underway for one of the most anticipated new Australian musicals to grace Sydney stages this year, New Musicals Australia have announced the cast and a season extension for MELBA at the Hayes Theatre Co from 11 August 2017.
Starring Emma Matthews in the titular role, she will be joined on stage by a stellar cast including Annie Aitken, Michael Beckley, Caitlin Berry, Andrew Cutcliffe, Blake Erickson, Genevieve Lemon, Adam Rennie and Samuel Skuthorp.
“It’s wonderful to be able to bring the story of Australia’s first international superstar to the stage with such an amazing ensemble of Sydney’s best performers,” said producer Kerry Comerford. “Before she was Melba, brought to life by the sensational Emma Matthews, she was just Nellie Armstrong and I’m excited about the casting of Annie Aitken who captures Nellie’s ambition, drive and talent to perfection.”
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.
Adapted from the book, Marvelous Melba by Ann Blainey, with Book & Lyrics by Nicholas Christo, and music by Johannes Luebbers, MELBA blends contemporary music theatre with operatic arias. Internationally acclaimed director, Wayne Harrison returns to Sydney to direct this new musical, bringing to life a woman we know so well, yet not at all.
“I’ve always been a Melba fan,” says Harrison. “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.”
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. A regular guest with Opera Australia, state opera companies, symphony orchestras, and major festivals, Emma is Australia’s most highly awarded soprano.
Career highlights include the title roles in 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 the recently released, Agony and Ecstasy (ABC Classics) with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
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. Nellie Mitchell originally from 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.
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.
Book & Lyrics: Nicholas Christo Music: Johannes Luebbers Director: Wayne Harrison Featuring: Annie Aitken, Michael Beckley, Caitlin Berry, Andrew Cutcliffe, Blake Erickson, Genevieve Lemon, Emma Matthews, Adam Rennie, Samuel Skuthorp Musical Director: Michael Tyack Production Design: Mark Thompson Lighting Design: Trudy Dalgleish Sound Design: Caitlin Porter Technical Director: Di Misirdjieff Producer: Kerry Comerford
Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Season: 11 August – 9 September 2017
Information and Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au
Image: Emma Matthews to star in MELBA – photo by Carolyn Mackay Clark