The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Attention, Downton Abbey fans! Here is what you should know about the history of the real-life opera singers in last week’s episode in which Dame Kiri Te Kanawa portrayed Dame Nellie Melba.

January 18, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt about it, “Downton Abbey” has become a global television drama phenomenon. Fans of the new season, which started two weeks ago, are eagerly looking forward to the third installment of the new season that will air this Sunday night on PBS  (and Wisconsin Public Television at 8 p.m. CST).

Just how seriously “Downton Abbey” writers and producers also take the show could be seen in last week’s episode. There is where a side plot and secondary character -– a special gala performance by the Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba – was taken seriously. Where should she stay? was one issue. Another was whether a performing artist like Melba, who had been privately hired for a small command performance in the salon (below) should eat with the servants and help or with the aristocratic landowners? 

melba concert downton abbey

And how many of you realized that Nellie Melba was played by the New Zealand opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (below)? The Ear sure didn’t, but now he knows why the singing of Puccini arias and Dvorak songs sounded so good.

Kiri Te Kanawa as Nellie Melba

In fact, the historical episode was taken so seriously that NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” this week posted a primer on just how important, acclaimed and controversial the real Nellie Melba (below, in a photo taken around 1900, and singing at the bottom in a YouTube was) really was.

nellie melba ca 1900

Here is a link to Episode 2 of Season 4 that aired last week on “Masterpiece Theatre” and can be streamed via the Internet or viewed in an encore broadcast this Sunday night at 7 p.m. CST:

http://video.wpt.org/program/masterpiece/

Here is a link to the NPR story about Nellie Melba and the episode:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/17/263356751/note-to-downton-abbey-viewers-nellie-melba-was-a-big-deal

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