Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stella Power (1896–1977)

by Peter Dunbar-Hall

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Stella Power (1896-1977), soprano, was born on 27 June 1896 at Richmond, Melbourne, and baptized Tertia Stella, fifth of six children of Edward John Power, customs officer, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née O'Brien (d.1904). Stella probably attended the local convent school before becoming one of the first students to train under (Dame) Nellie Melba at the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne. Her voice earned her the sobriquet, 'the Little Melba', from the diva herself: while guaranteeing a degree of prestige, the term led to unfair comparisons with the older singer. Power's professional appearances began with a recital in Melbourne in 1916. At St Mary's Catholic Church, North Sydney, on 30 July 1917 she married William Francis O'Rourke, a commercial traveller; their son Billy was born in 1920.

Later that year Power sailed for the United States of America where, early in 1918, she performed in concerts with the violinists Eugene Ysaye and Mischa Elman. As Melba's associate-artist she embarked on an extensive tour, during which Thomas A. Edison Inc. recorded her singing. Following recitals in Australia in 1918-19, she made her British début at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 November 1919 in a concert conducted by (Sir) Landon Ronald. She appeared on stage in Britain with the cellists Jean Gerardy and Lauri Kennedy (a fellow Australian), the tenor John McCormack, the pianist Wilhelm Backhaus and the violinist Jan Kubelík, and she also sang before the King and Queen of Norway. Under the conductor (Sir) Adrian Boult, she performed works by (Sir) Arthur Bliss and other composers for recording by His Master's Voice.

In 1923 Power returned to Australia where she gave recitals and sang under contract to Union Theatres Ltd in picture-palaces. Back in the United States in 1926, she began a nine-year period as a featured singer in a series of popular revues staged by the entrepreneur John Murray Anderson, appearing with performers such as Roy Rogers and Mae West. Billy travelled with her. Home again in 1935, Stella lived with her brother Cyril in Melbourne. She travelled interstate as a concert recitalist, and as a radio performer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In 1935-36 she spent four months in New Zealand, touring stations operated by that country's broadcasting board. She made guest appearances on commercial radio in Australia, and in 1946 provided the voice of the mature Melba in the serial, 'Melba—The Life Story of a Great Australian'. Although she stopped singing professionally in the 1950s, she continued to teach in the 1960s.

Power's operatic performances were rare. In 1924 she had appeared on stage in Carmen, singing the part of Micaela. For A.B.C. broadcasts in the 1930s she sang the title role in Martha (opposite the Italian tenor Dino Borgioli) and the role of Norina in Don Pasquale. Her recordings reveal a fine and well-trained lyric coloratura voice, and provide evidence of the type of teaching she received from Melba and her collaborators. Survived by her son, she died on 16 January 1977 at Cheltenham, Melbourne, and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Stella Power collection (Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Dunbar-Hall, 'Power, Stella (1896–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Stella Power (1896-1977), by unknown photographer

Stella Power (1896-1977), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/3621

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • O'Rourke, Stella
  • Power, Tertia Stella

27 June, 1896
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


16 January, 1977 (aged 80)
Cheltenham, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.