Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - Countess Almaviva
She's sung for Princes and Queens and even appeared on Downton Abbey as operatic royalty.  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa celebrates her 70th birthday today with an appearance at tonight's La Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden in the speaking role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp and from what I understand there will be much celebration.

And rightly so.  Her gorgeous voice and engaging stage presence has been gracing the operatic world for over forty years.  Her first major success came with her performance of the Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden in 1971 and she repeated the role to great acclaim the same year in New Mexico and later at Glyndebourne.  The Met soon beckoned with Desdemona and from there her international career was set.

While not the most versatile of actresses, the sheer beauty of tone and expression are what make her stand out and often make up for what she lacks dramatically.  It's been said that the relative coolness of her stage presence is why she is so perfect at portraying roles of royalty.

The first time I heard her was the broadcast of Prince Charles' marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and soon after I was given a cassette (remember those?) of her recording of Mozart arias.  Ever since then I have been an admirer. 

She has recorded extensively and is particularly renowned for her Strauss heroines, especially Arabella, the Marschallin and the Countess from Cappriccio.

For me it's difficult to chose a favourite aria, her Puccini recordings are particularly beautiful and two of them even featured in the soundtrack to the sumptuous Merchant Ivory film A Room with a View, "Chi bel sogno di Doretta" remains an absolute favourite of mine to this day.  Her recording of Der Rosenkavalier is a fave as is her Manon Lescaut with Jose Carerras.

Still performing occasionally to this day, though mostly in recital, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has dedicated a large part of her latter career to the teaching and encouragement of young singers, especially those of her native New Zealand with the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation.

As a musical tribute I've chosen an aria from the 1973 Glyndebourne Le Nozze di Figaro.  Here she is so young yet so poised and beautiful both in voice and presence.  This performance is available on DVD as is her filmed portrayal for Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and the excellent Joseph Losey adaptation of Don Giovanni in which she portrays Donna Elvira.


And what the hey, enjoy the aria below as a treat, it's a total earworm and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  To a great Diva who I simply adore, may you have the happiest of birthdays and may the be many more.