Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, born 1944, is one of the world’s leading opera soprano singers and celebrated contemporary figures and nearly 30 years after she made her debut, she has continued to enthral and entertain audiences around the world.
Whilst she has had a heavy international career, she has maintained a close association with New Zealand and New Zealand cultural organisations and promoted her homeland at an international level.
She began her career in New Zealand as a popular entertainer at local clubs and cabarets and was involved in stage musicals such as Annie Get Your Gun. One of her first recordings, Nun’s Chorus from Stauss’ operetta Casanova, was New Zealand ’s first gold record. In 1965, she won the Mobil Song Quest with her performance of Puccini’s Vissi d’arte from Tosca and in the same year went on to win the Melbourne Sun Aria.
Shortly after being awarded a scholarship to study at the London Opera Centre, she became Junior Principal at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. She came to international attention when she made her debut as Xenia in Boris Godunov and when she played the Countess in La Nozze di Figaro.
She has also performed in many well-known roles in many popular operas such as Fiordiligi in Così Fan Tutte, Rosalind in Die Fledermaus, Violetta in La Traviata, Tosca in Tosca, Mimi in La Bohème, including Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Gionvanni, a role which she also played in the film adaptation of the opera in 1979. Her other early performances were in Dido and Aeneas, Giacchino Rossini’s La Donna del Lage and Die Zauberflöte.
She has performed all over the world; in addition to her debut in the United States at the Santa Fe Opera Summer Festival in New Mexico, she has sung with Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Paris Opera, and The Vienna State Opera. She has also performed at prestigious locations in Milan, Australia, San Francisco, Munich, and Cologne.
Alongside starring in operas, she has also earned fame as a recitalist, and many of her programmes have included Maori folk songs. She also sung Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim at the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and performed at The Royal Albert Hall to celebrate her 50th birthday.
She has some 20 plus popular recordings to her name such as Ave Maria in 1984, Kiri Sings Gershwin in 1987, Kiri Sings Porter in 1994, and Verdi and Puccini Arias in 1982.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has received many international distinctions. In 1983, she was made an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College and Oxford and Wolfson College in Cambridge. She has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Oxford University and from seven universities in Britain, plus the University of Chicago, the University of Auckland, and the University of Waikato. She was made an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France in 1989.