A sample of the real Dame Nellie Melba for fans of 'Downton Abbey'

January 13, 2014|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Sunday night's installment of this season's "Downton Abbey" will be most talked about because of what happened below stairs while everyone else was attending a recital by the legendary Dame Nellie Melba.

I figured dear old Melba deserved a wee bit more respect than she got at Downton, where, in addition to that dreadful business involving a beloved servant, some of the upper-crusties walked out on the diva to play cards and some others who stayed made snide remarks. Tres déclassé.

And with all the inter-cutting in that recital scene, Melba -- or soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who portrayed her -- hardly had a chance. (I was disappointed in the singing by Dame Kiri, bless her heart, but it was a kick seeing her in the show.)

So here's a taste of the real thing: Melba performing Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me," recorded in 1916.  This is the lovely piece by Dvorak heard briefly at the start of the "Downton" recital scene.

Melba's greatest years were behind her by the time she made this recording, but you can still hear plenty of the distinctive tone and style that made her one of the greats.

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