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Bedazzling, a real Melba

Date

Ian Warden

Award winning South Korean soprano Sumi Jo performs at the Voices of the Forest concert at the National Arboretum, Canberra.

Award winning South Korean soprano Sumi Jo performs at the Voices of the Forest concert at the National Arboretum, Canberra. Photo: Colleen Petch

Ladies and gentlemen (and especially the latter, susceptible to feminine wiles) you may have felt during Saturday's Voices in the Forest that the divine Sumi Jo was singing just for you, only for you, ignoring the 4,399 other people there. Great sopranos have the knack of making each of us feel special.

If you did have that sensation on Saturday then you'll identify with ''Peter Quince'' a brilliant, hyperbole-employing feature writer with the Melbourne weekly Punch who went to Nellie Melba's first Melbourne concert upon her triumphant return there in 1902 (treated like and behaving as if royalty).

''Then a hush. a burst of applause - and Melba. All other things were sponged from sight and memory - there was nobody , nothing but Melba. I almost doubt if I would know her in the street, for I scarce had time to notice the graceful poise of her head, the bright eyes … and the perfect figure, when she began to sing and time and place were blotted out.

''Why did she sing to me? I was a perfect stranger to her, and yet she sang to me alone, for me alone. Her voice couldn't possibly have filled that great hall. It only reached me - and stayed there. Intoxication is ever selfish, and I gave no thought to those unfortunates in the south gallery and under the balconies, to whom the diva's performance was [because they must have been out of reach of her voice] but a dumb show, the voiceless phantasmagoria of a beautiful dream. She sang as a mother might to babe - and I was that enraptured babe - as a dove cooing to its mate - and I the happy mate. Melba sang for me alone.

''Sing on, Melba, Enchantress. Whether Woman or Devil! Am I bewitched or do I only dream? If this be magic, Enchantress, break not the spell! If this be dreaming, God grant I never wake!''

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