Kiri Te Kanawa: Wikis


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Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa, ONZ, DBE, AC (pronounced /ˈkɪri tɨˈkɑːnəwə/; born 6 March 1944, Gisborne, New Zealand) is a New Zealand soprano who had a highly successful international opera career since 1968. Possessing a warm full lyric soprano voice, Te Kanawa sang a wide repertoire that encompassed works from the 17th to the 20th century in Italian, French, German, Russian, and English. She particularly excelled in the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi, George Frideric Handel and Giacomo Puccini.[1]

Te Kanawa's voice has a vibrant but mellow quality that is ample in size without being overly heavy or forced. Although music critics have consistently praised the freshness and warmth of her voice, she has been at times criticised for her interpretations; with some critics feeling her performances lack vibrance, animation, and original expression. Nevertheless, the sheer beauty of Te Kanawa's voice made her one of the leading operatic sopranos internationally of the 1970s and 1980s. She found particular success in portraying princesses, noble countesses and other similar characters on stage, as her naturally dignified stage presence and physical beauty complemented these roles well.[1]

Although she now only rarely sings in operas, Te Kanawa still frequently performs in concert and recital, while giving masterclasses and supporting young opera singers to launch their careers.[2] In August 2009, The Daily Telegraph (London) reported Te Kanawa is retiring because the discipline is exhausting. It said her last opera performance would be at the Cologne Opera in Germany in April 2010, when she plays the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss.[3] However, Te Kanawa denied this the following month when interviewed in Sydney, saying "The press might have announced it. I didn't say a thing. I don't know why they're trying to retire me. I'm not retiring."[4]


Personal life

Kiri Te Kanawa was born as Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron in Gisborne on New Zealand's North Island. She has Māori and European ancestry, but little is known about her birth parents, as she was adopted as an infant by Thomas Te Kanawa, a Māori, and his wife, Nell. She was educated at Saint Mary's College Auckland and formally trained in operatic singing by Sister Mary Leo, RSM. Te Kanawa began her singing career as a mezzo-soprano, but later developed into a soprano.[5] Her recording of the "Nuns' Chorus" from the Strauss operetta Casanova was New Zealand's first gold record.

Kiri met Desmond Park on a blind date in London in August 1967, and they married six weeks later.[6] They adopted two children, Antonia (1976) and Thomas (1979) who was named after Kiri's adoptive father. The couple divorced in 1997.[7]


In her teens and early 20s, Te Kanawa was a pop star and popular entertainer at clubs in New Zealand.[8] In 1965 she won the Mobil Song Quest with her performance of Puccini's "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca. In 1963, she was runner-up to Dame Malvina Major in the same competition. As the winner, she received a grant to study in London. In 1966, she then won the prestigious Australian Melbourne Sun-Aria contest, which Major had also won the previous year. Both students had been taught by Dame Sister Mary Leo.

Early years in London

In 1966, without an audition, she enrolled at the London Opera Centre to study under Vera Rózsa and James Robertson, who reputedly said Te Kanawa lacked a singing technique when she arrived at the school but did have a gift for captivating audiences.[9]

She first appeared on stage as the Second Lady in Mozart's The Magic Flute, as well as in performances of Dido and Aeneas in December 1968 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre. She also sang the title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. In 1969, she sang Elena in Rossini's La donna del lago at the Camden Festival; and also was offered the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro after an audition of which the conductor, Colin Davis, said, "I couldn't believe my ears. I've taken thousands of auditions, but it was such a fantastically beautiful voice.". Praise for her Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo led to an offer of a three-year contract as junior principal at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden where she made her debut as Xenia in Boris Godunov and a Flower Maiden in Parsifal in 1970.[10] Under director John Copley, Te Kanawa was carefully groomed for the role of the Countess for a December 1971 opening.

International career

Meanwhile, word of her success had reached John Crosby at the Santa Fe Opera, a summer opera festival in New Mexico, then about to begin its fifteenth season. He cast her in the role of the Countess in Figaro, which opened on 30 July 1971. The performance also featured Frederica von Stade in her debut as Cherubino. "It was two of the newcomers who left the audience dazzled: Frederica von Stade as Cherubino and Kiri te Kanawa as the Countess. Everyone knew at once that these were brilliant finds. History has confirmed that first impression." [11] Frederica and Kiri have kept up with their friendship to this day.

On 1 December 1971 at Covent Garden, Kiri Te Kanawa repeated her Santa Fe performance and created an international sensation as the Countess: "with "Porgi amor" Kiri knocked the place flat."[12] It was followed by performances as the Countess at the Opéra National de Lyon and San Francisco Opera in autumn 1972, while her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1974 as Desdemona in Otello took place at short notice, replacing an ill Teresa Stratas at the last minute. She sang at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1973, with further débuts in Paris (1975), Milan and Sydney (1978), Salzburg (1979) and Vienna (1980). In 1982 she gave her only stage performances as Tosca in Paris. In 1980 she added Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos to her repertory at Chicago, and in 1991 the Countess in Capriccio, sung first at Covent Garden and with greater success at Glyndebourne and the Metropolitan in 1998.

In subsequent years, she performed at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Paris Opera, Sydney Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, San Francisco Opera, Munich and Cologne, adding the Mozart roles of Donna Elvira, Pamina, and Fiordiligi, in addition to Italian roles such as Mimi in Puccini's La bohème. She played Donna Elvira in Joseph Losey's 1979 film adaptation of Don Giovanni.

She was seen and heard around the world in 1981 by an estimated 600 million people when she sang Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim" at the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer.[13]

In 1984, Leonard Bernstein decided to re-record the musical West Side Story, conducting his own music for the first time. Generally known as the "operatic version", it starred Te Kanawa as Maria, José Carreras as Tony, Tatiana Troyanos as Anita, Kurt Ollman as Riff, and Marilyn Horne as the offstage voice who sings "Somewhere". It won a Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album in 1985 and the recording process was filmed as a documentary.

Te Kanawa has a particular affinity for the heroines of Richard Strauss. Her first appearance in the title role in Arabella was at the Houston Grand Opera in 1977, followed by the roles of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and the Countess in Capriccio. Many performances were given under the baton of Georg Solti and it was with him that she made her first recording of The Marriage of Figaro.

In recent years Te Kanawa's appearances on the opera stage have become more infrequent, although she remains busy as a concert singer. She appeared in performances in Samuel Barber's Vanessa with the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera in November/December 2004. In February 2010 she played the part of The Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti's La Fille Du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera, and sang a tango. In April 2010 she will sing the Marschallin at the Cologne Opera.


In a 2003 interview with the Melbourne-based Herald Sun she was critical of the high rate of welfare dependence among the Māori people, angering some of her compatriots.[14]

In 2007, Te Kanawa was sued for breach of contract by Leading Edge, an event management company, after cancelling a concert with Australian singer John Farnham. She had decided to cancel after learning that his fans sometimes threw their underwear on stage, which he would then proudly display.[15] She won the suit, in part because no binding contract was made, but over $100,000 in court costs were awarded against the Mittane holding company which employs and manages Te Kanawa.[16][17]


Kiri Te Kanawa was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, invested as an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in 1990 and awarded the Order of New Zealand in the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours List. She has also received honorary degrees from the following universities in the UK: Cambridge, Dundee, Durham, Nottingham, Oxford, Sunderland, Warwick as well as these universities worldwide: Chicago, Auckland and Waikato as well as being honorary fellow of Somerville College, Oxford and Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is also patron of Ringmer Community College, a school in the South-East of England situated not far from Glyndebourne.

On 12 June 2008 she received the Edison Classical Music Award during the Edison Classical Music Gala (formerly: 'Grand Gala du Disque') in the Ridderzaal in The Hague.

Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation

Kiri founded the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation with the vision "that talented young New Zealand singers and musicians with complete dedication to their art may receive judicious and thoughtful mentoring and support to assist them in realising their dreams." [18]

The foundation manages a trust fund to provide financial and career scholarships to young New Zealand singers and musicians.

Career highlights



  1. ^ a b J.B. Steane. "Kiri Te Kanawa", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 6 January 2009), (subscription access).
  2. ^ Matt Thomas, "Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on coaching young singers" on,8 Dec 2008 Retrieved 7 December 2009
  3. ^ Stephen Adams, "The end of an aria as soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa quits opera",on The Daily Telegraph (London), 11 August 2009 Retrieved 7 December 2009
  4. ^ Mark Geenty, "Dame Kiri: 'I'm not retiring' " on Retrieved 7 December 2009
  5. ^ Fingleton, David (1982). Kiri Te Kanawa: A Biography. Collins. pp. 21. ISBN 0002163659. 
  6. ^ Rubin, Stephen E. (1974-03-03). "Kiri Did It All With A Bit of Maori Pride; About Kiri Te Kanawa". New York Times: p. AL 15. "We met on a blind date in London and got married about six weeks later" 
  7. ^ Billen, Andrew (2006-05-16). "A most undramatic exit for a prima donna". The Times. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  8. ^ "Te Kanawa, Dame Kiri". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  9. ^ Jenkins, Garry; and Stephen d'Antal (1998). Kiri: Her Unsung Story. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-255942-0. 
  10. ^ Gilbert, Susie; and Jay Shir (2003). A Tale of Four Houses: Opera at Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna and the Met since 1945. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-255820-3. 
  11. ^ Scott, Eleanor (1976). The First Twenty Years of the Santa Fe Opera. Santa Fe, N. Mex.: Sunstone Press. 
  12. ^ Lebrecht, Norman (2000). Covent Garden: The Untold Story: Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85143-1. 
  13. ^ "Famed soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is coming to Manila". BusinessWorld. 2000-09-27. pp. 1. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  14. ^ "Dame Kiri remarks strike sour note". BBC News. 2003-03-01. 
  15. ^ "Singer in court for refusing to perform". Yahoo! News. 2007-01-28. 
  16. ^ ""Kiri Te Kanawa Wins Lawsuit Filed Following Withdrawal from Concerts with Pop Star"". Opera News Online. 2007-03-21. 
  17. ^ ""Kiri Te Kanawa Wins 'Panty-Throwing' Lawsuit"". Playbill Arts News: Opera. 2007-03-21. 
  18. ^ "Statement of Mission and Vision". Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation. 2007-03-13. 

External links

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