Peach Melba: quite the mouthfulby Lucie Renaud
/ July 1, 2001
Ingredients for six
has always gone well with fine food. After all, how else can one imagine a
sumptuous banquet not accompanied by the pleasant
sounds of court musicians or, for the not so well-to-do, by the recording of a
favourite classical piece? Still, the link between music, heavenly food, and the
culinary arts does not stop there: at one time or another, chefs have created
delicious dishes inspired by renowned composers or interpreters. With this
article, La Scena Musicale begins a new series that will combine the pleasures
of sound and palate.
“Always sing below your potential.”
What could be better for our overheated brains on a hot
summer night than the classical Peach Melba, peaches poached in light syrup (or
champagne, why not!) and a simple scoop of vanilla-flavoured ice cream covered
in raspberry sauce? Something light and delicious that even the most
anxiety-ridden weight-conscious will swallow without regret. Who was this
mysterious Melba, whose name is also related to light toast, a doll, a kind of
wafer, and to a variety of annuals?
Though she went by the name of Nellie Melba, her real
name was Helen Porter Mitchell. She was born in Australia on May 19, 1861. She
chose Melba, a diminutive of Melbourne, as her surname out of love for her
country. Her family was very musical, but Pietro Cecchi discovered the select
Presbyterian Ladies’ College student’s undeveloped vocal potential only in 1880.
After a disastrous marriage and the birth of a son, she left Australia in 1886
to pursue her musical interest. She studied with the great Madame Marchesi and
had her début in Brussels, after which she quickly became one of the best known
divas of Covent Garden. For 37 years, from 1889 to 1926, she reigned supreme in
London’s operatic temple.
Laryngologist to royalty, Sir Milsom Rees declared that
her vocal chords were the “most perfect he had ever seen.” The timbre of her
voice enflamed musical critics throughout Europe, Australia, and America. She
is, however, reputed to have said that there was no sense i
n having a perfect
voice if one didn’t have intelligence, magnetism, single-mindedness, health,
strength, and determination. A liberated woman before her time, she was
perfectly aware of the importance of image and almost fanatically looked after
her own interests. Her motto was “Do everything yourself.” Not only did she sing
and portray numerous characters, but she would in turn become a stage director,
a press attaché, and an artistic director. Even her professor, Mathilde Marchesi
once noted, “It was her brains that made Melba’s voice.”
She died on February 23, 1931, in Sydney, following
complications from failed cosmetic surgery.
The great French chef Auguste Escoffier is the creator
of the dessert that bears her name. There are a few variations on the theme
(among other things I noted a French bread recipe with Peach Melba and some
Peach Melba freezes: cocktails made with peach schnapps, raspberry liqueur,
hazelnut liqueur, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sauce). But the basic concept
is always the same.