Kiri Te Kanawa

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Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
BornClaire Mary Teresa Rawstron
(1944-03-06) 6 March 1944 (age 70)
Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealander
Years active1968–present
Spouse(s)Desmond Park (m. 1967; div. 1997)
ChildrenAntonia (b. 1976)
Thomas (b. 1979)
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Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
BornClaire Mary Teresa Rawstron
(1944-03-06) 6 March 1944 (age 70)
Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealander
Years active1968–present
Spouse(s)Desmond Park (m. 1967; div. 1997)
ChildrenAntonia (b. 1976)
Thomas (b. 1979)

Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa ONZ DBE AC (pronounced /ˌkɪri tɨ ˈkɑːnəwə/; born 6 March 1944) is a New Zealand soprano who has had a highly successful international opera career since 1968. Acclaimed as one of the most beloved sopranos in both the United Kingdom and the United States[1][2] 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.[3]

Her voice has been described as "mellow yet vibrant, warm, ample and unforced".[4] Music critics have consistently praised the freshness and warmth of her voice.[citation needed] 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.[3]

Although she now only rarely sings in operas,[citation needed] Te Kanawa still frequently performs in concert and recital, while giving masterclasses and supporting young opera singers in launching their careers.[5]

Personal life[edit]

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 Dame Sister Mary Leo, DBE, RSM. Te Kanawa began her singing career as a mezzo-soprano, but later developed into a soprano.[6] 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.[7] They adopted two children, Antonia (born 1976) and Thomas (born 1979). They divorced in 1997.[8] 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.[9]


In her teens and early 20s, Te Kanawa was a pop star and popular entertainer at clubs in New Zealand,[10] 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[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12] Under director John Copley, Te Kanawa was carefully groomed for the role of the Countess for a December 1971 opening.

International career[edit]

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."[13]

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."[14] 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.[15]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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 meantime, she performed at "Tokyo Global Concert" at Nakano-Zero Hall in Nakano Area, Tokyo, Japan, on September 10, 2013.[16]


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.[17] 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.[18] In the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours Te Kanawa was appointed to the Order of New Zealand.[19]


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[20] in the Iconic New Zealander category.

Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation[edit]

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."[21]

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

The Kiri Prize[edit]

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.[22]

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 Māori people, angering some of her compatriots.[23]

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.[24] The court found that no contract had been made by the two parties so she was not liable for damages, but Mittane, the company which employs and manages her, was ordered to reimburse Leading Edge A$130,000 for advanced expenditures already incurred.[25][26]

Career highlights[edit]




  1. ^ Kiri, the most beloved soprano in Britain
  2. ^ Kiri Te Kanawa – beloved diva
  3. ^ a b J.B. Steane. "Kiri Te Kanawa". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.  (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Kiri Te Kanawa sails at Ravinia". Chicago Tribune 2001-07-30. Retrieved 2012-07-03
  5. ^ Matt Thomas, "Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on coaching young singers" on,8 Dec 2008 Retrieved 7 December 2009
  6. ^ Fingleton (1982), p. 21
  7. ^ Rubin, Stephen E. (3 March 1974). "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 wed about six weeks later. 
  8. ^ Billen, Andrew (16 May 2006). "A most undramatic exit for a prima donna". The Times. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  9. ^ Elizabeth Grice, "The dame doesn't give a damn", The Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum Arts, 18 July 1998, p. 15s
  10. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online, "Te Kanawa, Dame Kiri"
  11. ^ Jenkins and d'Antal (1998)
  12. ^ Gilbert & Shir (2003)
  13. ^ Scott, Eleanor (1976)
  14. ^ Lebrech (2000)
  15. ^ "Famed soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is coming to Manila". BusinessWorld. 27 September 2000. p. 1. Retrieved 17 July 2008. 
  16. ^ "10日は中野で国際交流オペラ". スポーツニッポン (株式会社スポーツニッポン新聞社). 2013-09-07. 
  17. ^ "New Year Honours 1982" (24 June 1982) 62 New Zealand Gazette 1995.
  18. ^ Staff (26 January 1990). "Citation of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa". It's an Honour. The Commonwealth Government of Australia. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Queen's Birthday Honours 1995" (23 June 1996) 62 New Zealand Gazette 1759.
  20. ^ World Class New Zealand 2012 Winners
  21. ^ "Statement of Mission and Vision". Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation. 13 March 2007. 
  22. ^ "The BBC Radio 2 Kiri Prize". BBC Radio 2. 3 September 2010. 
  23. ^ "Dame Kiri remarks strike sour note". BBC News. 1 March 2003. 
  24. ^ "Singer in court for refusing to perform". Yahoo! News. 28 January 2007. 
  25. ^ "Kiri Te Kanawa Wins Lawsuit Filed Following Withdrawal from Concerts with Pop Star". Opera News Online. 21 March 2007. 
  26. ^ "Kiri Te Kanawa Wins 'Panty-Throwing' Lawsuit". Playbill Arts News: Opera. 21 March 2007. 


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