Final curtain call for Dame Kiri

It is almost 40 years since Dame Kiri Te Kanawa stunned Covent Garden audiences as the Countess in the Marriage of Figaro but now she has announced plans to retire from opera.

Te Kanawa has been a household name since 1981 when she sang before 600 million people at the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer.

Her retirement may come as a surprise, especially to those who believed her to have retired after Barber's Vanessa in 2004. However her retirement was never confirmed and she has announced plans to officially retire in 2010 due to the ‘exhausting' demands of the discipline.

Her final operatic performance will be in Cologne playing the Marschallin in Strauss's De Rosenklavier, the role that she has made her own, an apt end to her career.

Although she is retiring from opera, she still plans to remain a concert singer. She has concerts coming up in Sydney, Beijing, Spain and America. She is also concentrating on running her mentor scheme, the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, in New Zealand.

This September she will be performing in the Continential Airlines Tower Festival, where she will be joined by her young protégés for a selection of opera favourites including Puccini, Rossini and Bizet.