Nellie Melba and Adelina Patti

My nerdy calendar ("Jeff Kacirk's Forgotten English") told me that yesterday was the birthday of Nellie Melba, 19th-century operatic diva (from Australia, hence the stage name).

She started out as a pianist before realizing her real talent was in her voice (oh my god, and I thought that was just a stupid, unrealistic plot point in Mildred Pierce). She was a huge sensation in all the major European cities, having millions of fans and becoming incredibly famous for years and years. Eventually, with "her beleaguered 60-year-old voice she tried valiantly to recapture the grandeur she had projected in her youth, but the magic was no longer there for her."

She had simply sung her voice out, and decided to go on a farewell tour. Guys? The farewell tour lasted ten years, and only stopped when she contracted a fever in Egypt that she was never able to recover from, dying about a year later. While people deeply mourned her when she died, she had become a bit of an in-joke for the opera crowd, hence the still-used Australia saying, "more swan-songs than Nellie Melba".

On a side note for my musical theatre friends, did you know that Broadway legend Patti LuPone's great grand-aunt was one of the most famous operatic sopranos in history, the Spanish-born 19th century diva Adelina Patti, after whom LuPone is named? Apparently Adelina, in her prime, got $5,000 a night and trained her parrot to scream "CASH! CASH!"  While their styles are nothing alike (Adelina was known for her very high soprano and LuPone for her brassy alto), that is one heck of a talented family.

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