Classical Music with William Price King – Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – Part two – International Debuts

classical music

Last week we looked at the early life of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and today William will be looking at her international debuts.


The professional life of an opera singer, particularly a soprano is demanding. Jazz, Pop and Country singers tend to be judged and measured on their latest single or album releases, which have taken months to compose and then record. They have been edited and enhanced in the studio to produce the best possible sound. With opera, a singer is judged on their last performance; by a very critical audience and also professional commentators. Every note has to be perfect and the performance flawless to meet the exacting standards of the conductor, other cast members, audience and critics. This is stressful enough at each performance, but also between roles, an opera singer must safeguard their voice at all costs.

This takes a toll on not just an artist’s professional life but also their personal one too. The demands for travel, living out of suitcases and infrequent visits home are the rarely appreciated cost of stardom. Over the years, Kiri Te Kanawa has made a number of comments about the world of opera.

Indeed, Te Kanawa describes opera, which requires not simply singing talent, but the ability to act and move in concert with all the other performers on the stage as, quite simply, “a mess.” She explains, “There’s the music. There’s the coaching. There’s the instruction. There’s the language. There’s the stage movements, the conductor, the agents, singing teachers, and everybody else.” It is, in her view, nothing short of “a circus.” Actually, Te Kanawa marvels, “You feel as though your brain is going to break.”

During her career there have been a number of criticisms of both her approach to learning her roles and also in comparisons with other sopranos who have played that particular role in the past. However, they are more than balanced with positive reviews and the loyalty of her millions of fans.

As we enter the 1970s, Kiri Te Kanawa is a rising star and word of her success is reaching across the world. In the July of 1971, John Crosby at the Santa Fe Opera then in its 15th season, cast Kiri in the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro.

“The performance also featured Frederica von Stade in her debut as Cherubino. “It was two of the newcomers who left the audience dazzled: Frederica von Stade as Cherubino and Te Kanawa as the Countess. Everyone knew at once that these were brilliant finds. History has confirmed that first impression.”

Later that year in the December this performance was repeated at Covent Garden and the well-known critic of the Financial Times, Andrew Porter, proclaimed her “a new star.”

Over Kiri Te Kanawa’s career there were certain composer’s that she was most comfortable working with and these included Mozart, Verdi, and Strauss. She once described Strauss as “music that fits me like a glove, lyrical and passionate at the same time.” There is no doubt that her voice and range suits the more expansive style required by the Strauss roles.

“Im Abendrot”

In 1948, Richard Strauss, a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, was failing in health. There was a new world order, he was old, and he felt tarnished by the tribulations of World War II and the appropriation of his music by the Third Reich. It was in this ambiance that he wrote his swan song – “Vier Letzte Lieder” (Four Last Songs). One can conclude that his acceptance of death and his search for inner peace led to this great composition which is a masterpiece. He died in 1949, at 84 years old. In this video, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa sings the last movement of this work –”Im Abendrot” (At Sunset).

Under the baton of Sir Georg Solti, with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Kiri Te Kanawa gives a sublime performance. Her voice soars, her phrasing is perfect, and the emotion is rich.

Kiri Te Kanawa’s voice is a lovely bright soprano, with great ease and beauty in the upper register. The wonderful legato phrasing and good technique have served her well in in many Mozart roles.

Exsultate, jubilate”

In this video Dame Kiri Te Kanawa triumphs in the opening aria of “Exsultate, jubilate.” This sacred music solo *motet was written by Mozart in 1773. Her voice has a young bell-like tone, and her impeccable *coloratura performance is mesmerizing. She hits the high note at the end with ease and perfection. A joyful experience.

*A motet is a vocal composition, accompanied or a cappella, based on a sacred Latin text.

* Coloratura refers to elaborate ornamentation of a vocal melody.

Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly provided another outstanding role that showcased Kiri Te Kanawa’s stunning voice.

Madama Butterfly is an opera in three acts composed by Puccini with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It is based on the short story Madame Butterfly written in 1898 by John Luther Long, based on the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel, Madame Chrysantheme by Pierre Loti. This was dramatised by David Belasco as a one act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan which premiered in New York in 1900 and then moved to London where it was seen by Puccini.

“Un bel vedremo”

Kiri Te Kanawa is at her best in “Un bel di vedremo” from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” directed by Sir John Pritchard with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Her voice is young, clear, rounded, and even from top to bottom,and quite effective in the way she expresses herself.

This beautiful aria, one of my favorites, suits her well, as you will hear in the video.

In 1974 Kiri was released by Covent Garden to understudy soprano Teresa Stratas performing as Desdemona in Verdi’s Othello at the New York’s Metropolitan Opera.. After attending the dress rehearsal and secure in the knowledge that Teresa Stratas would be performing on stage on the Saturday, Kiri decided to go shopping.. However, things were about to get a little more frantic and finally her agent tracked her down and told her to get to the opera house where she found the matinee about to begin.

Backstage the dressers frantically prepared Kiri for her unexpected debut not only on the stage of The Met, but on television across America. There was, she remembered, no time for nerves, only “all-out panic.” This one illustrious performance that made Kiri Te Kanawa an international sensation

There were further débuts in Paris and (1975), Sydney (1976), Milan (1978), Salzburg (1979) and Vienna (1980). In 1982 she gave her only stage performances as Tosca in Paris. In 1989 she added Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos to her repertory at Chicago, and in 1990 the Countess in Capriccio, sung first at San Francisco and with equal success at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours at the age of only 38 in 1982, Kiri Te Kanawa was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to opera.

Kiri Te Kanawa also won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1983, for Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro”. It was produced by Christopher Raeburn and the London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Georg Solti.

Buy the music of Kiri Te Kanawa:

Additional Sources

williampricekingAbout William Price King.

William Price King is an American jazz singer, musician and composer. Originally he studied classical music and opera but over the years his style has evolved to what many refer to as the ‘sweet point’ where music and voice come together so beautifully.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. His jazz album, ‘Home,’ is a collection of contemporary songs and whilst clearly a homage to their wonderful legacy it brings a new and refreshing complexity to the vocals that is entrancing.

His latest album Eric Sempe and William Price King is now available to download. The repertory includes standards such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” (a jazz classic), Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”, Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and other well-known jazz, pop, and rock classics.

William and Eric Sempe have also brought their own magic to the album with original tracks such as Keep on Dreaming and Red Snow with collaboration with Jeanne King
Download the new album.

William is currently in France where he performs in popular Jazz Venues in Nice and surrounding area.

Connect to William

Website –
Facebook –
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue –

We hope you have enjoyed the first in the new series and would be grateful if you could share on social media. thanks Sally

16 thoughts on “Classical Music with William Price King – Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – Part two – International Debuts

  1. Pingback: Classical Music with William Price King – Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – Part two – International Debuts | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Music, books, blogs and Humour | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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