Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Diva and the Duke

When the famous Australian opera singer was visiting New York on one occasion, she was invited to lunch with the singer, Yvette Giblert. She sneered at the idea, saying that Gilbert might be invited to sing one of her couplets during dessert for a fee.
Gilbert replied that she understood. "I am only of humble birth", she said, "but Madame Melba is, of course, a member of the French royal family!"

This l'esprit d'escalier referred to Nellie Melba's long-ago affair with Louis-Phillipe d'Orleans, the son of the Pretender to the French throne. The lovers met in 1890. Melba and the Duc were mad about each other, even though there were many obstacles in their path. The Duc was ten years younger than the 31-year old Melba and engaged to a European aristocrat. Melba was married, but separated from her wild aristocratic husband, Charlie Armstrong. She also had a young son. The Duke was Catholic and Melba was Protestant. Even if Melba divorced, it would be impossible for them to marry.

The lovers rode through the Vienna woods and waltzed to Strauss music. The Duke had followed her to St. Petersburg, Brussels and London where they were glimpsed sharing a box at the Opera. Unfortunately, Melba's teacher's daughter, Blanche, hated her and told a journalist about the affair. The scandal broke and created an uproar. Charlie threatened to sue for divorce and Melba was told that as a divorced woman she would be banned from singing at Covent Garden. Luckily, Charlie was eventually calmed down somehow, and he obtained a quiet divorce from Texas years later.

The Duke went on safari to Africa for a few years after he and Melba separated. He eventually married an Austrian Arch-Duchess, but the marriage was unhappy. He and Melba stayed in contact during the rest of their lives. Although Melba had a few lovers, perhaps including the artist, Rupert Bunny. The Duke was the great love of her life.


Hels said...

Isn't the Bunny an elegant portrait. Melba may not have been a teenager any longer, but she carried herself with great dignitary.

Bunny and Melba were close enough in age and may have mixed in the same circles, but wouldn't it be cool if they had a very close friendship :) Was it just gossip, or was there some evidence?

Kittie Howard said...

One of the many things I love about your blog is that there is always something new and exciting. Hadn't a clue about Melba and what a story it is!

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