It is eight years since William Price King joined Smorgasbord to share music across the genres. It is six years since we have featured some of the music legends and delighted to showcase them again in 2022.
Welcome to the latest in the features on musical legends and in this series we are delighted to feature Kiri Te Kanawa, the renowned soprano from New Zealand who took the world by storm in the 1960s, and continues to inspire and delight audiences with rare but outstanding performances.
Kiri Te Kanawa is retired from performing in opera but still gives virtuoso performances of both classical and contemporary music that we can all enjoy. Here are some of the highlights of the last 20 years of her formal career and also a look at some of her passions off stage.
There are almost 120 albums featuring Kiri Te Kanawa and in the 1980s and 90s she released a great many recordings of both classical and popular music.
A wonderful project resulted in both an album and a documentary when the great Leonard Bernstein decided to re-record West Side Story… This was a very personal project as he conducted her own music for the first time. Of course it was wonderful casting to bring Kiri Te Kanawa into the role of Maria, and to continue this more operatic theme to the musical, José Carreras was cast as Tony. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album in 1985 and here is an excerpt from the exceptional documentary of the rehearsals.
This is one of the finest versions of West Side Story, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, ever. It is certainly on par with the original Broadway version. It’s always a big gamble to place opera singers in the roles of Broadway singers, but this one works to perfection as you will hear with Jose Carreras as Tony, and Kiri Te Kanawa as Maria. It is a privilege to see these great artists at work and especially to hear Kiri Te Kanawa deliver a sublime performance under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. It’s magic!
Following the success of this more operatic approach to the popular musicals, Kiri performed again alongside José Carreras and American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan in the recording of the musical South Pacific (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). Here is This is How it Feels in rehearsal with a few words from José Carreras about the adjustments he made to his operatic voice to reflect the lighter musical theme.
There were some other noteable recordings released in the next 15 years including
Other recordings include, Blue Skies (1986); Kiri Sings Gershwin (1987): Italian Opera Arias (1991); Our Christmas Songs For You (1996); and The Ultimate Christmas Album (1996) with Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price and Dame Joan Sutherland.
This album included both classical and more contemporary Christmas music such as Mendelssohn’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland.
Here is a review by one of the fans of the album.
I probably own too many Christmas CDs.
Many of them, though good, are indistinguishable from one another. But ‘The Ultimate Christmas Album’, a compilation of holiday recordings culled from London’s vaults, has set itself apart. It has been my most-played Christmas CD for several years now.The recordings are unparalleled; the Bach Choir’s vigorous “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (complete with thunderous pipe organ), Pavarotti’s tender “Ave Maria” and “O Holy Night”, Leontyne Price’s spritely “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and wistful “Silent Night”, the crystaline children’s voices in the Choir of Trinity School’s reading of “The First Nowell”–every selection on this CD could stand alone as a highlight.
For those of you who prefer your Christmas music with a classical bent, this is the CD you’ve been looking for. The selections are brilliantly chosen, recorded and programmed. I cannot recommend this any more-strongly. It is perfect.For once, you can believe the hype–this IS the ultimate Christmas album.
As a departure from music, Kiri Te Kanawa also wrote a Children’s book in 1989. Land of the Long White Cloud – Maori Myths, Tales and Legends. A collection of nineteen tales from various Maori tribes of New Zealand about the trickster Maui, the Creation, monsters, birds, animals, and special places.
Sadly Kiri and her husband Desmond Park divorced in the late 1990s. Although a very private person, the remarks that Kiri made at the time, reflect her belief that her career and the pressures and demands to remain at the top of a very difficult profession, played a part in the split. In the first post on her life we covered her early training with the nuns at school but it was only as an adult that she revealed the abuse that she suffered at the time.
The Whanganui Chronicle reported. “I am as tough as I am today because from age 12, when I was at a convent school in Auckland, I was beaten by the nuns.” “You have to be tough in the opera world or you are not going to make it. Just because you can sing an aria does not make you an opera singer.”
The world continued to delight in her performances through to her eventual retirement from the opera stage and she also received some further prestigious awards from her own country and around the world.
In the 1990 Australia Day Honours, Te Kanawa was appointed an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia for services to the arts, particularly opera, and to the community. In the 1995 Queen’s Birthday Honours Te Kanawa was appointed to the Order of New Zealand.
There is no doubt about Kiri Te Kanawa’s love of New Zealand and in 1999 she released a new album, Maori Songs. She admits to seeking solace and rejuvenation in the lush, green north coastal region, where the ocean amiably wanders in and out of peaceful inlets. Ironically, the diva who made her mark singing the roles of royalty in elaborate costumes on ornate stages, is a self-described tomboy, who enthusiastically fishes, hikes, boats, plays golf and tennis, and even shoots clay pigeons
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa excels in this Maori song cycle. Her voice is excellent and she moves smoothly and effortlessly through these haunting melodies and creates an atmosphere which is quite soothing to the ear. She modulates her voice to the point that one would not believe that she is an opera singer and sings these New Zealand Maori compositions in a creative and heartfelt way.
In recent years her appearances on stage have become infrequent, although she remains busy as a concert singer. She appeared in performances in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa in Monte Carlo (televised in 2001), with the Washington National Opera (2002), and the Los Angeles Opera in November/December 2004.
She sang in her last opera, Vanessa, in 2004, but continues with recitals and concerts and organizing the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, to help young music students.
The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation
Founded in 2004, Kiri Te Kanawa stated that here vision was “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.”
The foundation manages a trust fund to provide financial and career scholarships to young New Zealand singers and musicians. As part of its mission, the Foundation created scholarships at both the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. Kiri Te Kanawa takes a very active role in ensuring that her vision is realised. She conducts master classes and coaching sessions around the world and supported other musical institutions who shared her aims, such as the in the position of Patron for the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and her own BBC Radio 2 initiative to find gifted opera singers of the future.
In April 2010 she sang the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss in two performances at the Cologne Opera in Germany.
Also in 2010 Te Kanawa played the spoken part of The Duchess of Krakenthorp in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera, and sang a tango. She repeated this role at the Met in a revival during the 2011–12 season, and repeated it again in Vienna in 2013 and at Covent Garden in March 2014 (a run that comprised her 70th birthday).
In 2013, Kiri Te Kanawa appeared in Downton Abbey playing Dame Nellie Melba, an Australian operatic soprano.
To end this short season on this beautiful and charasmatic singer one last peroformance and return to her classical roots. “Dove sono,” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, as the Countess, very brilliantly laments her broken heart and her husband’s wandering affections in this aria,” Dove sono” in Act 3. This is quite challenging because this aria has long *legato phrases that require skilled breath control and great vocal technique. When sung well, this aria reveals all of the beautiful qualities and textures of the voice. Kiri Te Kanawa is exceptional in this role and her mellow tone and elegance are admirable.
*legato – sung or played in a smooth flowing manner, without breaks between notes.
Buy the music of Kiri Te Kanawa: Amazon
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
As always William would love to receive your feedback… thanks Sally.