Small Talk

AC­CLAIMED SO­PRANO Kiri Te Kanawa LOOKS BACK ON HER DECADES OF SUC­CESS AND TO HER BRIGHT FU­TURE

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

Ac­claimed so­prano Kiri Te Kanawa looks back on her bril­liant op­er­atic ca­reer and dis­cusses her fu­ture

Aworld-renowned so­prano for whom suc­cess came quickly af­ter her opera de­but in the mid1960s, Kiri Te Kanawa has re­ceived hon­ours from the UK, Aus­tralia and her na­tive New Zealand, and has per­formed with na­tional op­eras all over the world. Last year, she ap­peared on the tele­vi­sion se­ries Down­ton Abbey, play­ing cel­e­brated Aus­tralian so­prano Nel­lie Melba. Af­ter singing for more than 50 years, Te Kanawa is fo­cus­ing her at­ten­tion on char­i­ta­ble and ed­u­ca­tional ef­forts, such as the Kiri Te Kanawa Foun­da­tion she es­tab­lished in 2004, which is ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port and ad­vice to tal­ented young New Zealan­ders with as­pi­ra­tions for a ca­reer in mu­sic.

De­spite bid­ding farewell to reg­u­lar opera singing on the global stage, she con­tin­ues to give spe­cial per­for­mances. On Oc­to­ber 27, in cel­e­bra­tion of her 70th birth­day, Te Kanawa is com­ing to Hong Kong to per­form at a ben­e­fit for the Women’s Foun­da­tion at the Four Sea­sons at 6.30pm. The one-hour per­for­mance will be fol­lowed by a four-course din­ner with wine pair­ing. Twelve-per­son ta­bles range from HK$78,000–88,000. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit

In such a long, fruit­ful ca­reer, what have been your most mem­o­rable per­for­mances?

I sup­pose the whole of my life has been that, right from way back, from ’66. Ev­ery per­for­mance I did, ev­ery first night, ev­ery opera house I’d sing in, was a mas­sive high­light. Each per­for­mance was like a build­ing block for my en­tire ca­reer.

How has the opera world changed over your ca­reer?

I think there are fewer places for opera singers now. Opera houses have young peo­ple’s pro­grammes, but some of the teach­ing isn’t as good as it should be, so there are a lot of singers who don’t do as well as they should. I think it’s very dif­fi­cult to ex­plain why. I’m find­ing that there are many good Amer­i­can singers be­cause the teach­ing is much bet­ter in Amer­ica. It wasn’t al­ways like that.

Do you find opera au­di­ences are still en­thu­si­as­tic?

Yes and no. In Lon­don, the opera houses are full ev­ery night, which is won­der­fully en­cour­ag­ing. But the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera House in New York is not en­joy­ing that so much.

Why did you de­cide to start the Kiri Te Kanawa Foun­da­tion?

I think it was a wise de­ci­sion to do what I’ve done, be­cause we have found that there are singers who need help—es­pe­cially in New Zealand, where there are no schol­ar­ships that lo­cal stu­dents can can ap­ply for, so I thought I’d set up a foun­da­tion that can help new singers.

We’ve started see­ing some sig­nif­i­cant suc­cesses for the stu­dents who we’ve al­ready helped. The hope is to pro­vide a more in­depth ed­u­ca­tion for singers be­fore they leave New Zealand, and have them bet­ter trained when they ar­rive in the other coun­tries they choose to go to. That’s my aim at the mo­ment.

Are there any other char­i­ta­ble ef­forts you’re in­volved with?

I’m a pa­tron to the Cardiff Singer of the World, which is now se­lect­ing singers for the com­pe­ti­tion next June. I’ve been in­volved with that for the last six years. And as I’m a pa­tron I’m very in­volved with what’s go­ing on— the choice of singers, what’s hap­pen­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion and how it’s re­ju­ve­nated it­self, be­cause it’s been go­ing on for 30 years.

Are there any opera singers you par­tic­u­larly ad­mired?

Joan Suther­land was a world-fa­mous opera singer who came from Aus­tralia, and there was Joan Ham­mond and Nel­lie Melba be­fore her. They were world fa­mous for many years and their fame re­mains. We all have he­roes in the South Pa­cific area. And, of course, we fol­low our he­roes. Joan Suther­land was mine. That’s what I think a lot of peo­ple are do­ing now, they’re fol­low­ing their hero, which is me.

What are your plans now that you’ve re­tired from the stage?

I never men­tion the word “re­tired”— the press use it a lot be­cause it’s con­ve­nient, but I know that I’ll never re­tire. Re­tir­ing is when you don’t do any mu­sic, when it’s not your job any­more. And that’s not what I in­tend to do—i in­tend to con­tinue do­ing ex­actly what I’ve been do­ing, just with­out cer­tain el­e­ments. I think I just poi­soned the word re­tire­ment! In March I was at the Royal Opera House and I did an aria in an opera. I might not do that again, or I might do it in an­other two years, I don’t know. If I’m asked and I’m ca­pa­ble, I might do it. But you cer­tainly don’t sing the ma­jor op­eras like you used to; those are for the younger gen­er­a­tions, not for a 70-year-old or a 70-year-old’s voice.

What are your main pas­sions these days?

I fo­cus a lot of time on my foun­da­tion and I’ve de­cided to take up paint­ing, so I now take lessons and I’m go­ing to try and get into wa­ter­colours. I have many things to do in New Zealand as well—i spend a lot more time down there, look­ing for stu­dents who need help and ad­vice, try­ing to en­cour­age them and try­ing to en­cour­age com­pa­nies to look af­ter them, to train them well.

Do you have any ad­vice for up-and-com­ing singers?

I think find­ing a good singing teacher is the most im­por­tant thing of all. And also, if the time comes, know­ing whether your ca­reer is go­ing to work or not. I’ve said it a thou­sand times to stu­dents—you train to be a doc­tor, you go to med­i­cal school, and you come out be­ing a doc­tor. But in our job you can go and train for 20 years and still not be a singer. That’s the dif­fi­cult thing in the world that I’ve cho­sen and the world that a lot of these young peo­ple have cho­sen. I try to get the stu­dents to make de­ci­sions for them­selves— make the wise de­ci­sion for their own ca­reer.

cur­tain call Kiri Te Kanawa ( cen­tre left) takes a bow with co- stars Juan Diego Floréz and Pa­trizia Ciofi at the end of a per­for­mance of Donizetti’s Lafille­durég­i­ment

lofty goals Te Kanawa as the Duchess of Crack­en­thorpe in Lau­rent Pelly’s pro­duc­tion of Lafille durég­i­ment at the Royal Opera House, Covent Gar­den, ear­lier this year

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