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Nellie Melba

Soprano star right at home at Nellie Melba

Written by Margot Taylor
on January 17, 2020

Ryman’s Nellie Melba Retirement Village has another adored Australian soprano in its midst.

From performing in front of Queen Elizabeth three times, to winning over acclaimed German opera director Wolfgang Wagner, to being described as “the owner of one of the more important voices of the 20th century”; Nance Grant is a star to the core.

Last year when Nance opened a newspaper and an advert for an open day at Ryman’s Nellie Melba Retirement Village fell into her lap, the sign was too hard to ignore.

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The Melba name instantly struck a chord, Nance says.

“We lived in a lovely 16th floor apartment up on St Kilda Rd.

“I was adamant I would never leave…

“But I said to my husband Ian, this might be interesting, it’s Nellie Melba.

“When we were leaving the village I said to Ian, what do you think about it? I feel it’s got a good karma.

“And Ian said, ‘well, it’s got everything’.”

The Melba name has been part of Nance and Ian’s lives for decades, Nance says.

“For 12 years I was on the board of the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music which became the Melba Opera Trust.

“I go to everything that’s on, so ever since they started, I’ve watched all the singers develop.

“I think the Melba Trust, out of everything in Australia, give the best advice and tuition of how to be a performer.

“Because, as Nellie Melba said, ‘you need more than a voice’, and it’s just so true.”

The need to have more than a voice is something Nance has lived by.

Upon returning from performing for Wagner in 1974 Nance received a letter from the maestro offering two small roles, and later, a principal role.

“I said to Ian, no, we are not going.

“And thank goodness I did because we’ve been married 63 years, and we have fantastic children and grandchildren, and a normal life.”

That “normal life” included Nance winning the final series of the Mobil Quest in 1957, performing at the opening of the Sydney Opera House, studying music while raising three children, 10 years as Principal Soprano with the Australian Opera, and teaching alongside Dame Joan Hammond at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne.

Nance says she would not have had such an amazing career had it not been for Ian and her parents who encouraged her to “use the gift you’ve been given” and helped raise her family.

In 1976 Nance was awarded an MBE for “services to Music and the Arts” and in 2013 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for “significant services to the Performing Arts, particularly Opera.”

Since moving into Nellie Melba in late October, the corridors outside Nance and Ian’s three-bedroom apartment have remained quiet.

“I’ve never sung at home, and I became an asthmatic about 10 years ago which has dried my vocal cords out, so I don’t sing,” Nance says.

But, since retiring from the stage in 1991, Nance has not forgotten the opera world with her and Ian attending all Melbourne opera performances.

The opera world has most certainly not forgotten Nance with budding sopranos still seeking the advice of the opera icon.

 “No one knew I was retiring when I did.

“The whole of Hamer Hall went ‘Aww’ when it was announced.

“I was standing in the wings and I got quite emotional.”

Three months after moving in, the Melba village is very much home, she says.

“We are just so happy here.

“We’ve settled in so well, and just love everyday here.

 “We have had about half a dozen lots of friends out.

“They are all surprised by how big it is.”

The size of the rooms, “lovely swimming pool and marvelous library” were big draw cards, but the 30-minute commute to the Melbourne Arts Centre and Hamer Hall was crucial, Nance says.

“That means for us, it’s got the whole package.

“It really is home sweet home.”

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