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Kiri Te Kanawa

Kiri Te Kanawa

Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa ONZ DBE AC (pronounced /?k?ri t? 'k??n?w?/; born 6 March 1944) is a New Zealand/Maori soprano who has had a highly successful international opera career since 1968. Acclaimed as one of the most beloved sopranos in both the United States and Britain she possesses a warm full lyric soprano voice, singing a wide array of works in multiple languages from the 17th to the 20th centuries. She is particularly associated with the works of Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Handel and Puccini.Her voice has been described as "mellow yet vibrant, warm, ample and unforced". Music critics have consistently praised the freshness and warmth of her voice. 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.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 in launching their careers.

Personal life

Te Kanawa was born as Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron in Gisborne on New Zealand's North Island. She has Maori and European ancestry, but little is known about her birth parents, as she was adopted as an infant by Thomas Te Kanawa, a Maori, 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. Her recording of the "Nuns' Chorus" from the Strauss operetta Casanova was New Zealand's first gold record.Te Kanawa met Desmond Park on a blind date in London in August 1967, and they married six weeks later at St Patrick's Cathedral, Auckland. They adopted two children, Antonia (born 1976) and Thomas (born 1979). They divorced in 1997. She had never made any attempt to contact her natural parents, but around this time, her half-brother Jim Rawstron contacted her. Initially, she was not willing to meet him, but later agreed to. This episode ended in bitterness, and she has since reaffirmed her decision to have nothing to do with her birth family.


In her teens and early 20s, Te Kanawa was a pop star and popular entertainer at clubs in New Zealand, and regularly appeared in newspapers and magazines. In 1965 she won the Mobil Song Quest with her performance of "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. In 1963, she was runner-up to 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 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. She first appeared on stage as the Second Lady in Mozart's The Magic Flute, as well as in performances of Purcell's 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. 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 The Marriage of 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 Te Kanawa as the Countess. Everyone knew at once that these were brilliant finds. History has confirmed that first impression."On 1 December 1971 at Covent Garden, Te Kanawa repeated her Santa Fe performance and created an international sensation as the Countess: "with "Porgi amor" Kiri knocked the place flat." It was followed by performances as the Countess at the Opéra National de Lyon and San Francisco Opera in autumn 1972. She sang her first Desdemona in Glasgow in 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 and (1975), Sydney (1976), Milan (1978), Salzburg (1979) and Vienna (1980). In 1982 she gave her only stage performances as Tosca in Paris. In 1989 she added Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos to her repertory at Chicago, and in 1990 the Countess in Capriccio, sung first at San Francisco and with equal success at Covent Garden, 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.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 in 1981 she made a recording (her third; she made videos in 1973 and 1975 under Pritchard and Böhm) of The Marriage of Figaro.In recent years her appearances onstage have become infrequent, although she remains busy as a concert singer. She appeared in performances in Samuel Barber's Vanessa in Monte Carlo (televised in 2001), with the Washington National Opera (2002), and the Los Angeles Opera in November/December 2004.In April 2010 she sang the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss in two performances at the Cologne Opera in Germany. Te Kanawa has appeared as a Pennington Great Performers series artist with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra in 2004.Also in 2010 Te Kanawa played the spoken part of The Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti's La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera, and sang a tango. She repeated this role at the Met in a revival during the 2011–12 season, and is repeating it again in Vienna in 2013 and at Covent Garden in March 2014 (a run that comprises her 70th birthday).


In the Queen's Birthday Honours 1982 Te Kanawa was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to opera. In the 1990 Australia Day Honours, Te Kanawa was appointed an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia for services to the arts, particularly opera, and to the community. In the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours Te Kanawa was appointed to the Order of New Zealand.


Te Kanawa received honorary degrees from the UK universities of Bath, Cambridge, Dundee, Durham, Nottingham, Oxford, Sunderland, Warwick as well as the Universities of Chicago, Auckland (NZ) and Waikato (NZ) and is an 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.In 2012, Te Kanawa was awarded a World Class New Zealand award in the Iconic New Zealander category.

Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation

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

The Kiri Prize

In January 2010, Te Kanawa and BBC Radio 2 launched an initiative to find a gifted opera singer of the future. The initiative was the BBC Radio 2 Kiri Prize competition.Following regional auditions of over 600 aspiring opera singers, 40 were invited to attend masterclasses in London with Te Kanawa, mezzo-soprano Anne Howells and conductor Robin Stapleton. From these masterclasses fifteen singers were selected for the semi-finals which were broadcast on 5 consecutive weeks on BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night. The semi-finalists were accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Martin Yates, Richard Balcombe and Roderick Dunk and their performances were judged by Te Kanawa, Anne Howells, Robin Stapleton and director John Cox.Five singers went through to the final which was broadcast on Radio 2 on Friday 3 September 2010. The winner – soprano Shuna Scott Sendall – performed with Te Kanawa and José Carreras at BBC Proms in the Park in Hyde Park, London on Saturday 11 September 2010 and was given the opportunity to attend a three-week residential course at the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia in Italy.


In a 2003 interview with the Melbourne-based Herald Sun she criticised the high rate of welfare dependence among the Maori people, angering some of her compatriots.In 2007, Te Kanawa was sued for breach of contract by event management company Leading Edge, after cancelling a concert with Australian singer John Farnham. She cancelled after learning that his fans sometimes threw their underwear on stage, which he would then proudly display. She won the suit, but her Mittane company which employs and manages her was ordered to pay A$102,000 in court costs.

Career highlights

  • Moved to Auckland and studied under Sister Mary Leo 1959–1965 at St Mary's College.
  • Had New Zealand's first gold disc, with a popular operatic aria.
  • Was 2nd to Dame Malvina Major in the Mobil Song Quest in 1963, and won it in 1965.
  • Won the Melbourne Sun-Aria in 1965, and was awarded an Arts Council of Great Britain bursary to study at the London Opera Centre.
  • Made her US debut at Santa Fe Opera with her performance as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro in summer 1971, and became internationally famous at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London after singing the role on 1 December 1971.
  • In 1977 she appeared at the Royal Opera House in a German/English production of Die Fledermaus. The New Year's Eve performance, conducted by Zubin Mehta, was recorded for television with the cast was virtually duplicated on the later DVD release. The performance was broadcast on TV in the US on New Year's Eve 1979.
  • Sang at the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and La Scala in Milan, Italy.
  • In 1981 sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
  • She won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1984, for Mozart's "Le nozze di Figaro". It was produced by Christopher Raeburn and the London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Georg Solti. Also featuring were Thomas Allen, Kurt Moll, Lucia Popp, Samuel Ramey and Frederica von Stade.
  • Created Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in 1982, and returned to New Zealand to sing several times, including the New Year millennium concert at Gisborne in January 2000.
  • In 1984, made a special recording of West Side Story in the leading role of Maria with José Carreras as Tony, and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
  • In 1986, again partnered José Carreras in the recording of the musical South Pacific.
  • In 1994 celebrated her 50th birthday, culminating in a spectacular Birthday Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Long awaited return to the Metropolitan Opera as Arabella.
  • November 1999, released a new album, Maori Songs.
  • Sang in her last opera, Vanessa, in 2004, but continues with recitals and concerts and organising the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, to help young music students.
  • On 15 March 2006, Te Kanawa played a role in the 2006 Commonwealth Games. She sang a medley of "Happy Birthday" to Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of her upcoming birthday, and "God Save the Queen".
  • 2 December 2007, sang to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal Variety Performance. Her performance included leading the National Anthem, God Save the Queen
  • 28 June 2008, she sang Summertime in duet with Portuguese fado singer star Mariza, at Casino Estoril.
  • 19 July 2008, sang her last American concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia Park.
  • 19 June 2009, inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, performing solo works, and duets with Frederica von Stade and Josh Groban to a crowd of 18,000
  • 6 February 2010, returned to the Metropolitan Opera as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in La Fille du Régiment – typically a non-singing character part, but an art song by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera was interpolated into the production for her to sing.
  • April 2010, returned to the Cologne Opera House in Germany for two final performances of the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier.
  • 2013, she appeared in Downton Abbey playing Dame Nellie Melba, an Australian operatic soprano.


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Hot tracks

Kiri Te Kanawa - Vissi d'arte

Vissi d'arte


Kiri Te Kanawa - Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165: "Allelujah"

Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165: "Allelujah"