Sunday, March 6, 2011

Happy Birthday: Kiri Te Kanawa

"D'amour l'ardente flamme"
La Damnation de Faust (Berlioz)
Born as Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron on March 6, 1944, in Gisborne, New Zealand, of Māori and European ancestry, she was adopted as an infant by Thomas and Nell Te Kanawa. She was educated at Saint Mary's College Auckland and formally trained in operatic singing by Sister Mary Leo, RSM. She began her singing career as a mezzo-soprano, but later developed into a sumptuous lyric soprano. In her teens and early 20s, Te Kanawa was a pop star and popular entertainer at clubs in New Zealand. 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

"Du bist wie eine Blume" (Schumann)
by Sister Mary Leo. 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 Die Zauberflöte, 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 Le Nozze di Figaro after an audition of which the conductor, Colin

"Summertime" Porgy & Bess (Gershwin)
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. 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 Le Nozze di Figaro, which opened on July

"Bailero" Chants d'Auvergne
30, 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." Frederica and Kiri have kept up with their friendship to this day. On December 1, 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." 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

"Porgi amor" Le Nozze di Figaro
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

"Io son l'umile ancella" Adriana Lecouvreur
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

"Chi il bel sogno di Doretta"
La Rondine (Puccini)
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 Le Nozze di Figaro. 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. 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

"Oh! Quand je dors" (Liszt)
Opera in November/December 2004. In February 2010 she played the part of The Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti's La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera, and sang a tango. In April 2010 she sang the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss in two performances at the Cologne Opera in Germany. 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 June 12, 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 met Desmond Park on a blind date in

"Let the bright seraphim"
Samson (Händel)
London in August 1967, and they married six weeks later. They adopted two children, Antonia (1976) and Thomas (1979) who was named after Kiri's adoptive father. The couple divorced in 1997. 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." The foundation manages a trust fund to provide financial and career scholarships to young New Zealand singers and musicians. In a 2003 interview with the Melbourne-based Herald Sun she criticised the high rate of welfare dependence among the Māori people, angering some of her compatriots. In 2007, Te Kanawa was sued for breach of contract by event management company Leading Edge, after

"Après un rêve" (Fauré)
canceling 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. [Source]

For an extensive fan website with full discography, photos and schedule information, go here. To find out more about the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation click here.


"O mio babbino caro" Gianni Schicchi (Puccini)

"Aber der richtige" Arabella (Strauss) with Kathleen Battle

"Tarakihi" Maori Song

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