Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

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News from Melba Recordings

Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

A Toast to Melba - Interview with Maria Vandamme

Saturday, 30 August 2008 - 12:00am

"A lot people know what the Sydney Opera House looks like but not many know what goes on inside it,"says Maria Vandamme, founder of the Melba Foundation and Melba Recordings.

The redoubtable campaigner, who trained as a pianist and became a producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has spent the last ten years trying to correct that ignorance, using the record label to champion native talent.

"Australia is well known for its sportsmen, and its actors and actresses are well known now, but they generally have to live away from Australia, whereas a record label transports Australian artists and their culture overseas very easily," she says.

Vandamme, who has been variously described in the Australian media as a juggernaut and a saint, is as demanding on her production team as she is with potential sponsors.

"I believe recordings are like an artwork, they are not just something for the market place. We have such love for our recordings, whatever kind of music it is. It is an opportunity for artists to express their deepest feelings for their repertoire."

Latest evidence of that is the world premiere recording of Saint-Saëns’ Hélène, a ‘poeme lyrique’ commissioned by Australian diva Nellie Melba a century ago but then neglected.

"In the year 2000 I discovered this score in Monte Carlo while researching Nellie Melba’s life," Vandamme says. "I could not believe it had never been recorded or performed for 100 years. The more I studied the score the more I realised it was a work of absolute quality, Saint-Saëns at this very best – and he is a very underrated composer.

"It is not the Melba label’s first global coup. In 2004, it made the first recording on SACD of Wagner’s Ring, to acclaim in some 200 reviews worldwide. Vandamme says there was a ‘cultural imperative’ to record the A$15.3m (£7.4m) first all-Australian production of the cycle. "I thought if we are going to do it let’s do it as well as it can be done with today’s technology."

In the same year, she prised an unprecedented A$5m (£2.3m) subsidy from the Australian government. She bypassed bureaucracy and went direct to ministers, causing a political furore. "I exercised my democratic right," she says firmly. It’s very difficult to make high quality recordings and break even, so I felt that just as government supports orchestras and music in general, it should take the next step."

Forthcoming recordings include Mozart with clarinettist Paul Dean, and Britten and Winterreise with tenor Steve Davislim, who is gaining prominence in the UK.

While Vandamme demands top audio quality, she has agreed to offer downloads of Melba recordings: "Nothing replaces the object you hold in your hands and treasure, but for the young generation that grows up wanting downloads, it’s there for them."

Classical Music (UK)