She had the sweetest voice. It was a powerful ocean, with dainty undercurrents - overcoming her listeners in waves that curled out of her mouth as if it were a shell. It devoured their aesthetic hunger and mingled with their imagination, until they became a single, unabashed craving. Her voice was rich and indulgent – yet carried the threat of decay, as did all temptations.
And spinning above her earthy strength, like the twisted and starry paths of a galaxy, were the high notes: quick and crystalline, the soprano's pure alloys of gold and silver. Her voice was split into two levels, pushed from her corset by her trained muscles – past the stays and laces, beyond the silhouette of plaster and whalebone.
She toured the great cities of the Victorian era – Paris, London, New York – singing before audiences that teemed with wealth, bristled with longrettes and were coarse with diamonds. This was a society that carried its beauty with sadness and dignitiy.
In 1893, she performed in Lohengrin, Wagner's medieval fairytale wrapped in verdant darkness, bursting through ancient forests and heraldry. The performance was in Covent Garden: one hundred years earlier the hunting ground of unscrupulous vendors and prostitutes. Now, these unsavory acres were the site of the newly built Savoy Hotel – where a dinner party was given to celebrate her triumph.
The head chef Auguste Escoffier knew this prima donna well and intented to a create a dressert to honor her voice, how delicious it must have tasted in the air, its richness melting in the heat. So the dessert began with ice cream. Then, to match her earthiness, her divine science, he topped it with fruit – the essential quantities of the seasons. In this case Escoffier chose summer's champion: the peach. Finally, to symbolize her soaring notes, the invisible filigrees, he topped his dessert with spun sugar. He called his creation, Peach Melba.
A dessert commands the meal – it is its highlight; it is what the attendees desire most…it is the diva's dish. So it was only right that the sweet voice of Nellie Melba would make a sweet dish famous, that it would make a meal immortal: gathering applause as she did on the stage over a century ago.