Kiri Te Kanawa

Kiri Te Kanawa (1944- )

Kiri Te Kanawa was born March 6, 1944 in Gisborne, New Zealand. She was born out of wedlock to a Caucasian mother and Maori father who put her up for adoption. She was adopted a couple of months later by a couple of the same racial combination. Her adoptive mother was a distant relative of Sir Arthur Sullivan and had some minor musical talent. She discovered early on that her daughter had a special musical gift and basically pushed her in that direction throughout her youth. This included moving the family to Auckland when Kiri was 12 so that Kiri could attend a school where a well-known vocal teacher taught. At age 22 Kiri went to England to study at the London Opera Centre, a school run by the Royal Opera House to train young vocalists. She has lived in England ever since, but remains a citizen of New Zealand. She became an "overnight" success in 1971 when as an unknown, she was cast as the Countess in a new production of The Marriage of Figaro, and all the critics raved. She had a similarly successful debut at the Met when on only 3 hours notice, she took over for an ill Teresa Stratas as Desdemona in Otello, and again received rave reviews.

The peak of her fame came in 1981 when she sang at Prince Charles' wedding. The royal family rewarded her by making her a Dame Commander of the British Empire the following year. She is a lyric soprano who specializes in Mozart and Richard Strauss roles. Her best roles would be the countess in Marriage of Figaro, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Desdemona in Otello and the title role in Arabella. Her repertoire is relatively small. She's generally quite careful to choose roles that flatter her voice. As you might guess I'm a big fan of hers.

Kiri has been married to Desmond Park since August 1967. They met on a blind date in London and married about 6 months later. Desmond was a mining engineer, but of late has spent most of his time helping Kiri manage the business aspects of her career. Desmond is originally from Australia. He left Australia with the intention of working in England for a year, then moving on to the U.S. where he had a job lined up in Illiois. But he met Kiri a couple months after arriving in England and never made it to the U.S. They have two children, both adopted, Antonia and Thomas (named after Kiri's father). Probably the most interesting thing about Desmond is that although he is 100% supportive of Kiri's career, he has absolutely no interest in opera whatsoever. When Kiri performed in Richard Strauss's Capriccio for the first time, in San Francisco in 1990, he came all the way to California to be with her, but he sat in her dressing room drinking tea and reading the newspaper and never heard a single note.
NOTE: Kiri and Desmond have just divorced.

Kiri's Simon Boccanegra video is from 1991 or 1992. It doesn't have the star power that the Met broadcast did....Michael Sylvester is Gabriele and Alexandre Agache is Boccanegra, but it's a lovely performance nonetheless. It's the same production that was staged by Chicago's Lyric Opera this past fall.