The House of Worth always had a close connection with the entertainment world, dressing many famous figures both on and off-stage. One such notable was the opera signer Nellie Melba. Born Helen Porter Mitchell in in Australia on March 19, 1861, Nellie Melba trained as a singer in her native Australia and made her debut on the Melbourne stage in 1884. After having enjoyed some local success, she tried her luck in Europe in 1886, first in London with no success and later in Paris where after studying for a year, she became successful on the stage both in Paris and Brussels and eventually returned to London to sing at Covent Garden in 1888. While in Paris, at the request of her father, she changed her last name to Melba, alluding to her connection with Melbourne, Australia. By the early 1890s Nellie’s opera career had taken off and soon she was considered one of the foremost opera singers in Europe, as well as in Britain and America.
Nellie Melba (May 19, 1861 – February 23, 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell
One of the roles that Nellie often sung was the character of Elsa in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. During this era, it was common practice for major stars to provide their own wardrobe for productions and as part of her role, in 1891 Nellie commissioned a cloak from the House of Worth, now known as the “The Cloak of Angels” for its design.
The cloak itself is made of gold-colored velvet and silk with gold metallic embroidery and decorated with jewels, pearls, and beads. Around the bottom of the cloak are nine hand-painted angels inset in a band of velvet. Depending on the lighting of the above pictures, it would appear that the basic fabric colors are primarily champagne/gold.
The cloak was extremely heavy as detailed below in this brief account of Nellie wearing it on stage while performing Lohengrin at Covent Garden in early 1891:
The cloak worn by Madame Melba when she appeared as Elsa in Lohengrin excited the greatest possible admiration. It was made by M. Worth, and it is looked on as quite a chef d’oeuvre. The material is cloth of gold, with fleur-de-lis embroidered upon it in white. The border, which is also white, is thickly studded with pearls, rubies and emeralds. It is immensely heavy, and two stout pages were put on by Mr Harris to carry the train of this gorgeous garment in tl1e wedding scene; but, in spite of the two bearers, the movements of Madame Melba were much impeded as she moved about the stage (The Lady, July 2, 1891).
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any surviving pictures of Nellie wearing the cape but it must have been an impressive sight. Nellie Melba’s legacy still lives on in Australia and especially with the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music which is now associated with Victoria University. Also, she had been honored with a postage stamp and her likeness on the $100 bill:
We hope you have enjoyed this little excursion into the world of opera. 🙂