Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is internationally famed as a soprano. By the time she was 20 she had won all the major vocal prizes available in the South Pacific, and had also started her recording career – unusual for a prima donna in any era. In 1965 she moved to London to study at the London Opera Centre. After her sensational debut in Figaro, Kiri Te Kanawa gained legendary status almost overnight and moved rapidly into the front rank of international opera. She became one of the most famous sopranos in the world, a familiar figure in the leading opera houses of the world.
On the concert stage, she has sung with the world's major orchestras– Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony and the Boston Symphony under the baton of conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa and Sir Georg Solti. Named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1982, Te Kanawa has been conferred with honorary degrees from the Universities in Cambridge, Oxford, Dundee, Durham, Nottingham, Sunderland, Warwick, Auckland, Waikato, Chicago and Wellington. She is also an honorary fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, and Wolfson College, Cambridge, and was invested with the Order of Australia in 1990.
In the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours List, she was awarded the prestigious Order of New Zealand. Te Kanawa is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music. In 2006 she received the International Achievement Summit Award and in 2010 was presented with the British Recording Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012 she was named Iconic New Zealander of the Year.
Dame Kiri was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to music in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours and in 2019 the Board of Regional Facilities Auckland announced their theatre in Auckland would be renamed – ‘Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre’.
In her words:
“In 2004 I created the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to offer mentoring, financial support and career assistance to young NZ singers with exceptional potential. Since its inception the Foundation has made over 160 grants to 30 exceptionally talented NZ singers. Our focus was on helping attendance at international music schools, grants for travel, personal mentoring, help with visa applications and auditions. Our support continued to evolve to meet the student’s changing needs with the Kiri Programme a series of high impact modules led by invited international teachers and coaches to hone the singer’s readiness to undertake advanced training abroad. My work with the Foundation is very satisfying – more satisfying than my own career in some ways because you are looking at them taking their small steps, and then suddenly larger steps. I find that incredibly exciting.
Unfortunately, no-one could plan for Covid-19 which has seen most opera companies invoke the ‘force majeure’ clause in contracts, with the result that those who have launched into their performing careers have been left without income for the foreseeable future. Those who are students have seen their various academies and young artists programmes suspended indefinitely. My heart goes out to these talented young NZ singers who have had their career plans dashed. Many are now experiencing hardships in making ends meet. We have been in close communication with all the singers supported by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, in an effort to reassure them and to understand how we can best support them for the immediate future.” - Dame Kiri Te Kanawa