Dame Kiri at 75: the canary who soared

Dame Kiri at 75: the canary who soared


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2019

The New Zealand diva was born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron on March 6, 1944.

Adopted by a Maori couple, Thomas and Nell Te Kanawa, she took their surname. After singing in Auckland pop clubs, she came to London to study with Vera Rozsa and caught the ear of  Georg Solti and Colin Davis. In 1970, she received a three-year contract at Covent Garden.

She rose to superfame at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, catching the eye on television in a bright-yellow canary outfit as much as she caught the ear in Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim.

She has since received every available royal honour, sold piles of records, presided at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and appeared in Downton Abbey.




  • Caravaggio says:

    She has before, during and since insufferably bored too many of us with mere vocalises.

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      I’ve never heard the Marschallin described as a ‘vocalise’ – but as your posts here make clear, your little world operates to different criteria

    • Tired of it all says:

      And yet she’s always spoken well of you…PLEASE pull that 2×4 out. You’ll feel much better.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      In her prime the lady had a beautiful voice, impeccable musicianship, class, taste and a stunning stage presence. A perfect ” package” if ever there was one.Happy birthday Dame Kiri and many more

    • Francois says:

      If she bores you so much, why do you listen to her?

  • Alexander says:

    always favourite …one of the reasons I liked Elena Stikhina was her singing had so many “silvery” overtones which are intrinsic ( special if you please) feature of Kiri’s singing ( to my ears at least).
    …. and Kiri likes fishing , as I would do before ….

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Having had the pleasure to meet Dame Kiri on numerous occasions over the years, I was always amazed by her kindness and, yes, humility. Aside from hearing many stellar performances in her prime—and not to diminish her artistry—there was a photo in NY Magazine, circa 1982, that remains in my memory one of the most beautiful female portraits ever photographed. Dame Kiri still looks the same. Best wishes and many more!

  • Nick2 says:

    I have heard her give some truly memorable performances and also had the pleasure of meeting her. I agree with Tiredofitall about her kindness, but she does have some Irish blood in her veins and producers and promoters have seen that manifested on occasion!

  • Bruce says:

    One of the great Mozart & Strauss singers of the 20th century — possibly the great one of the late 20th. Just my opinion, of course.

    Two of my favorites of hers:

    Mozart arias http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=203356

    And Strauss 4 Last Songs (the first recording) http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=90619

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve heard the “perfectly lovely voice, but boring” comment about her many times. Never understood it (the boring part).

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Sometimes her singing is too beautiful and lacking in other dimensions. Perfection can be boring to some people. Compare her songs of the Auvergne to Netania Davrath. Davrath has less voice, but more characterization.

  • Ignacio FB says:

    I recorded (in a beta tape, how ancient that sounds) the wedding ceremony from Spanish TV (the only one at the time) so I could listen to the music later. So sadly, just after Kiri Te Kanawa started to sing, the commentators decided we had heard enough Handel and they came back to their chat about the guests’ outfits. They made me so happy.

  • Bill Gross says:

    A story about her circulates in North Texas, as with such they are hard to verify but probably have some touch of truth. She performed with the Fort Worth Symphony. She was starting to fell under the weather at the end of the performance series. She was scheduled to attend a donor’s reception. Rather than do that she spent additional time with the orchestra at the end of the performance talking with them.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Knowing what passes for society in Fort Worth and the FWS musicians of that era, she made a wise choice.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    She made some fairly dreadful pop recordings before going classical. Thank goodness she went classical.

  • Andrew says:

    And the wonderful Sir David Willcocks is on the podium in this clip from the royal wedding!

  • Spenser says:

    I don’t understand the comments which refer to her as “boring” or a mere vocaliser.
    Sutherland, maybe – but Kiri?
    I think not.

  • Marg says:

    A truly wonderful singer, and I especially love her commitment to helping young NZ singers to achieve their potential. She has really ploughed energy back into her home country and not forgotten her roots. Happy birthday Dame Kiri!