In 1902, Dame Nellie Melba made a triumphant return to Australia for her first homecoming tour since leaving for Europe 16 years earlier as an ambitious young singer. In the interim, Mrs Charles Armstrong – as she was known when she left – had gained a new name and established herself as one of the most famous and feted opera singers in the world. A true diva.

Emma Matthews, Annie Aitken and Genevieve Lemon. Photograph © Clare Hawley

Adoring crowds greeted her everywhere she went. “Melbamania has come to Melbourne,” wrote the social magazine Table Talk. As part of her tour, she performed at the Melbourne Town Hall – the venue where she had sung her first adult concert many years ago. And it is here that the new Australian musical Melbabegins.

Using a tried and true convention, writer Nick Christo (book and lyrics) and composer Johannes Luebbers then flash back to Nellie’s arrival in Paris in 1886 with her husband Charles and young son George, and the start of her singing lessons with the renowned vocal coach Madame Marchesi, who was to be a profoundly important influence.

Following Melba’s life...