Kiri Te Kanawa

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Biography of Kiri Te Kanawa from New Zealand, opera soprano, of great physical beauty and stately bearing, she was the ideal singer to embody princesses and noble ladies in operas.

Her voice, with its pleasant texture and timbre, made her one of the most applauded sopranos of the eighties.

In 1981, she was heard by some 600 million people around the world when, at the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer, she performed the aria “Let the Bright Seraphim” by Handel.

In 1982, Queen Elizabeth honored her with the title of “Dame Commander of the British Empire”.

Her soprano voice rivals that of Monserrat Caballé, María Callas and Renata Tebaldi in the history of music.

Kiri Te Kanawa Family Biography

Kiri Te Kanawa was born in Gisborne, North Island of New Zealand, on March 6, 1944.

From birth Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron.

Within a few weeks of birth, she was adopted by Thomas Te Kanawa, a Maori; and by her wife, Nell, of Irish descent.

Her adoptive mother and biological mother were Irish. Her adoptive father and her biological father, Maori. Little else is known about her biological parents.

Her adoptive parents are a love story for her. Kiri Te Kanawa has said that she would have liked to have more time, a few more years, to thank them and give them back in part what they gave her.

Her parents soon saw Kiri’s extraordinary talent and invested every penny in her musical education.

Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the light of the new day. Credit:

Her adoptive mother died very early and only her father could see something of her successful career.

Thomas Te Kanawa accompanied her around the world on her tours.

Youth of the notable singer Kiri Te Kanawa

In her teens and early youth, Kiri Te Kanawa was a popular singer of light songs in New Zealand.

She was a student of a famous singing teacher, Sister Mary Leo, who taught her the technical foundations of the voice.

In 1965, at the age of 21, she won a singing competition in New Zealand and received a scholarship to study in London.

In 1966 she enrolled at the London Opera Center, where she studied with the Hungarian singer Vera Rózsa, a famous singing teacher, living in England since 1954.

Vera Rozsa
As a teacher for more than half a century, Vera Rózsa encouraged and developed the voices of great singing figures. Credit: web

Family life of soprano Kiri Te Kanawa

In 1967, Kiri Te Kanawa married Desmond Park.

They adopted two children: Antonia and Thomas. Antonia is three years older than Thomas.

Kiri and Desmond
Kiri Te Kanawa and Desmond Park lived together for 30 years. Credit: web

During her later life as a famous soprano, Kiri knew that her children and her husband eagerly awaited her in London, to see her six months out of the year.

Singing gave Kiri Te Kanawa, a disciplined perfectionist, no respite.

During the months that she lived in London, she returned to her singing lessons twice a week to perfect her technique.

Kiri Te Kanawa explained it like this: “It’s like tennis players. Always repeat the same techniques: back racket-hitting the ball, back racket-hitting the ball. What you do is repeat the same sound techniques to know face the climax of the song“.

The three of them wanted to have her at home. It was hard for the children, it was hard for her husband, it was hard for her. It was always a huge sacrifice.

Revealing the sacrificed part of her travels, she said: “You live locked up, concentrating on your work, with the constant terror of going outside because you can cool off. Taking care of your throat, taking care of this piece of your neck becomes an obsession. You cannot stay up late. You can’t talk too much, you can’t be in a smoky room, you can’t have cold feet, you can’t go to a party“.

Being among the top sopranos in the world is extremely fascinating and extremely boring“.

International career from 1971 to 1997

Kiri Te Kanawa began her career as a mezzo-soprano; but later, on the advice of conductor Richard Bonynge, she changed to soprano.

She is considered a supreme exponent of her generation in the works of Mozart and Strauss.

She also made successful forays into the repertoire of Verdi and Händel.

In 1971, Kiri Te Kanawa made a memorable debut at the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.

Kiri Te Kanawa
Kiri Te Kanawa played Countess Almaviva. Credit:

In English opera companies, she performed successfully, playing Idamante, in Mozart’s opera Idomeneo; and Ellen in Rossini’s opera La donna del lago; and Carmen in Georges Bizet’s opera. Since then, her career has been practically unstoppable.

She then sang with the Scottish Opera, with the Berlin Opera, at the Glyndebourne festival, at the San Francisco Opera and at the Santa Fe Opera, the capital of New Mexico.

What happened next, in 1974, was a brilliant unobstructed path at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House: Desdemona (Otello, by Verdi), Doña ElvIra (Don Giovanni, by Mozart) and Amelia (Simon Boccanegra, by Verdi).

In the following years, she performed at the Chicago Lyric Opera, at the Paris Opera, at the Sydney Opera House, at the Vienna Opera, at La Scala in Milan, at the San Francisco Opera, at the Munich Opera and at the Cologne Opera.

Kiri Te Kanawa’s repertoire of operas

This repertoire of operas had been chosen by Kiri Te Kanawa, especially because they stimulated her voice and suited her character.

She also specialized in various roles belonging to the French and German, among which the character of Margarita from Gounod’s opera Faust stands out.

Kiri Te Kanawa also excels in the interpretation of Richard Strauss’s most lyrical heroines.

In 1979, Kiri Te Kanawa was Doña Elvira in the movie “Don Giovanni” based on the Mozart opera and directed by Joseph Losey.

Kiri te kanawa
Kiri Te Kanawa in one of the famous Mozart duets. Credit: web

In 1982, she sang her only Tosca, by Puccini, in Paris; and added Elizabeth de Valois, by Don Carlo, by Verdi to her repertoire.

In 1987, at the Royal Albert Hall, the London Symphony Orchestra recorded a selection of the most popular numbers from the musical “My Fair Lady” for the BBC. Kiri Te Kanawa played Eliza Doolittle; and Jeremy Irons, Professor Higgins.

The soprano Kiri Te Kanawa in Spain and Argentina

In May 1991, Kiri Te Kanawa, who was spending most of her summer holidays somewhere in Alicante, appeared for the first time on a Spanish stage, to sing fragments of operas.

She did it at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, at the Palau de la Música in Valencia and at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid.

In 1993 and 1997, she gave recitals at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Last years of musical activities

In 1999, Kiri Te Kanawa released an album of Maori songs, to further publicize their cultural heritage.

In 2004, Kiri Te Kanawa decided to retire from the operatic stage.

But she continued to perform sporadically in concerts, spending most of her time at her Bay of Islands residence in New Zealand.

On May 26, 2004, Kiri Te Kanawa gave a concert at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra.

She sang several pieces by Mozart, Puccini and Vivaldi.

Palace Mexico
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is the most important cultural center in Mexico, declared a cultural monument by UNESCO. Credit: web

In 2004, she started the “Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation”, with which she gives support and financial assistance to New Zealand singers and musicians.

One of her dreams is for a Maori interpreter to come to the institution, but she recognized that it is not very usual for members of her town to dedicate themselves to opera, so the search continues.

Casanova’s recording of “Nun’s Chorus,” the operetta composed by Ralph Benatzky in 1928 with music by Johann Strauss (Jr.), on which Kiri Te Ka Kanawa sang, won New Zealand’s first gold record.

In 2006, Kiri Te Kanawa participated in the seventh edition of the Jaén Autumn Festival.

The National Dance Company with Nacho Duato, the Orfeón Donostiarra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Andalusia also performed at this festival.

The Lady of Music offered the extraordinary recital accompanied on piano by her inseparable Julian Reynolds, in the Aula Magna of the University of Jaén.

She showed that, despite the natural wear and tear of time, her velvety voice still had the ability to move the audience.

In September 2010, the BBC promoted that the songs of “West Side Story” were played in Hyde Park in London.

More than 50 years after the premiere of this masterpiece composed by a genius like Leonard Bernstein.

Live and before more than 40,000 amazed spectators, the great Spanish tenor José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa sang “Tonight” a significant number of this work.

In 2013, Kiri Te Kanawa appeared on the popular British television series “Downton Abbey”, in which she played Australian soprano Nellie Melba.

Her last lyrical performance took place in October 2016 in the Australian city of Ballarat, near Melbourne.

Opera House in Wellington, New Zealand. Credit: K. Hanger, on the website of

In 2017, Kiri Te Kanaw announced her retirement from the stage and indicated that she would not sing in public again.

She assured that she did not regret having made this decision and that she did not miss singing.

Honors received by Kiri Te Kanawa

In 1982, Queen Elizabeth honored her with the title of “Dame Commander of the British Empire.”

Kiri Te Kanawa broke a record for popularity in 1990, when an open-air concert in the New Zealand city of Auckland drew a crowd of some 140,000.

In 1990, she was invested with the Order of Australia. This distinction was created by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975, with the purpose of recognizing citizens of Australia and others, their achievements or meritorious services.

In 1995, Kiri Te Kanawa was awarded the prestigious Order of New Zealand. This decoration is New Zealand’s highest honor. The Order was established in 1987 to recognize excellent service to the Crown and the people of New Zealand.

Kiri Te Kanawa
Kiri Te Kanawa in a performance to mark her induction into the Hollywood Hall of Fame. Credit: web

In 2009, Kiri Te Kanawa’s name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She has been awarded honorary degrees by numerous universities: Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Durham, Dundee, Warwick, Chicago, Auckland and Waikato.

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