Help the performing arts recover

Explore this rare and unique collection and admire the rich history of opera.

In 1977 Arts Centre Melbourne acquired the world's largest collection of material relating to the career of soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Since then the Australian Performing Arts Collection's catalogue of opera items has grown substantially, including a donation of 30 complete costumes worn by Dame Joan Sutherland, a rare carte-de-visite photographic album featuring opera stars of the 1850s and 1860s, silk programmes, costume and set designs, and many more items.

This extraordinary collection honours the history of opera in Australia, its gifted performers, designers and creators, and the important influence they had on this incredible art form.

 

Spotlight


Grand: The costumes of Dame Joan Sutherland

Grand

Explore Dame Joan Sutherland's iconic costume details in close-up, unearth historical facts and view rare footage from past performances in our online exhibition Grand.

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Stories


Nellie Melba: Home Sweet Home

Nellie Melba: Home Sweet Home

Dame Nellie Melba was Australia's first international star. Yet despite her world fame and glamour, a genuine love of Australia remained at her core.


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Kimono

Kimono

We pay tribute to the kimono and some of the ways this traditional Japanese garment has been re-imagined and represented across different art forms including opera, ballet, theatre and music.


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A Day in the Life of a Conservator: Dame Nellie Melba’s Bonnet

A Day in the Life of a Conservator: Dame Nellie Melba’s Bonnet

What does a conservator do? Meet Carmela Lonetti, Object Conservator of the Australian Performing Arts Collection as she shares what’s involved with preparing for display a bonnet worn in 1924 by Dame Nellie Melba.


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Back(stage) to the future

Back(stage) to the future

3D scanning for costumes is proving to be a fascinating endeavour, with potential to inspire audiences. The team explore ways to not only to preserve history, but to turn the precious collection into an immersive experience for all to enjoy.


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Objects of Fame: Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger

Objects of Fame: Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger

Dame Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger were two of the most famous Australians of their time. Revisit the Objects of Fame exhibition with a full colour 38-page catalogue now available online.


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Watch


Dame Joan Sutherland Opera Australia Documentation Project

Our dedicated team of Collections Management, Conservation, Access and Curatorial staff from the Australian Performing Arts Collection worked together to acquire, document, preserve and make accessible over 500 objects including multi-part costumes, accessories, designs and ephemera from the Dame Joan Sutherland Collection, which was a donation from Opera Australia in 2018.

 

 

Madama Butterfly Costume

Curator Margot Anderson presents this detailed costume designed by Michael Stennett, and worn by Joan Carden and Leona Mitchell as Cio-Cio San in The Australian Opera's production of Madama Butterfly in 1977.

 

Dame Nellie Melba's Lohengrin Cloak

Curator Margaret Marshall shares the fascinating story behind the acquisition of Dame Nellie Melba’s cloak worn in 1891 when she sang for the Russian Tsar in St Petersburg.

 

Objects

Explore historical opera objects in our Collection.


Forbidden Love

Forbidden Love

American soprano Grace Angelau first travelled to Australia in 1932 with the J.C. Williamson Grand Opera Company to perform as Amneris in Aida. Angelau returned to Australia in 1939 and settled here permanently. She generously donated this collection of jewellery to the National Theatre in Melbourne, where it was used in the 1948 and 1951 productions of Aida, as well as a number of other productions presented by the company.

Belt worn in Aida and other National Theatre productions, 1940s - 1950s
Gift of The Australian National Theatre, 1979
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


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Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night

Australian soprano Gertrude Johnson, a pupil of Dame Nellie Melba, wore this costume for her debut at Covent Garden, London in 1922. The twinkling moon and star motif against a dark sky background was appropriately magical for her role as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.

Johnson’s performance in the demanding role was highly acclaimed and a key moment in an increasingly successful international career. In 1935 she returned to Australia, where she established The National Theatre Movement the following year.

Costume worn by Gertrude Johnson as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, British National Opera Company, 1922
Gift of the Australian National Memorial Theatre, 1979
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


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The Ghost of Opera

The Ghost of Opera

Chamber Made Opera’s 1989 production of Recital featured Helen Noonan as ‘The Ghost of Opera’, a famous diva reliving the tragedies and triumphs of her past. Her costume, designed by Jacqueline Everitt, has an armour-like quality with layers of severely pleated skirts and starched shirt collars capping the sleeves. The pleating of the skirt acts as a concertina, which allowed the expansive garment to be packed away and easily transported during the production’s extensive Australian and international tour.

Costume worn by Helen Noonan in Recital, Chamber Made Opera, 1989
Designed by Jacqueline Everitt
Gift of Chamber Made Opera, 1997
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


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