On Air Now
Cowan's Classics with Rob Cowan 7pm - 9pm
Introducing the renowned New Zealand soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, with a glimpse into four decades of her incredible opera career.
On Sunday 6 October 2013, Kiri Te Kanawa makes her name as a Downton star, playing Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. She apparently reduced the cast and crew to tears during rehearsals. Picture: ITV
Dame Kiri was born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron in Gisborne on New Zealand's North Island. She was adopted by Māori parents Thomas and Nell Te Kanawa.
She's one of New Zealand's finest musical exports: her recording of the Nuns' Chorus from the Strauss operetta Casanova was the country's first gold record.
Dame Kiri impressed the London Opera Centre in 1966 - so much so, that she enrolled without an audition to study under Vera Rózsa and James Robertson. Her teachers noticed her gift for captivating audiences, despite her initial lack of technique.
Dame Kiri was offered the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden in 1971, after a wildly successful audition. Conductor Sir Colin Davis said: "I couldn't believe my ears. I've taken thousands of auditions, but it was such a fantastically beautiful voice."
Dame Kiri performed Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim at the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
Dame Kiri's received honorary degrees from the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Dundee, Durham, Nottingham, Oxford, Sunderland, and Warwick. She's also quite the international honorary academic, with further degrees from the universities of Chicago, Auckland and Waikato.
Not only is she a legendary opera star, she's determined to support young singers in their path to greatness. She 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." Picture: ITV
Kiri performed at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in 2006, singing Happy Birthday to Her Majesty the Queen herself.
Honoring her international success, Dame Kiri picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Classical BRIT Awards in 2010. It's just one of a handful of prestigious honours and awards: as well as being made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to opera, she scooped a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in 1984 for a disc of Mozart.