Soprano Te Kanawa: from Downton Abbey to Covent Garden

By Efrosini Costa

Soprano Te Kanawa: from Downton Abbey to Covent Garden
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa celebrates her 70th birthday on the same London stage where it all began & muses about Downtown Abbey.

Standing on the Covent Garden stage, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa celebrated her 70th birthday singing in the same place where she first made an international splash more than 40 years ago.

As the New-Zealand born Soprano sang a cake was wheeled out  on the daffodil-strewn stage.

Having retired from the opera stage in almost a decade ago, the international opera sensation still performs in recitals

Te Kanwaw was left misty eyed after video tributes were shown on a screen at the end of a production of Donizetti’s comic opera La Fille du Regiment. All of the star’s famous opera-singing friends and colleagues paid tribute to Te Kanwawa’s four decade long career, including Frederica von Stade, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo.

“After this day… I’m going to do a runner, and there’s no more birthdays,” the soprano said to laughter from the sold-out opera audience.

“I thank this whole cast for the most wonderful performance and I’m so pleased that I was able to do five minutes of this,” said Te Kanawa.

In what is usually the non-singing role of the Duchess of Crackentorp, a special aria, lifted from Puccini’s opera “Edgar”, was inserted especially for the soprano to sing, giving the audience a glimpse of her famous high notes.

“I thank you all so much and keep up the spirit and the love of classical music,” she mused after the audience serenaded the singer with a rendition of Happy Birthday.

Placido Domingo, who sang with Te Kanawa in a memorable production of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”, welcomed the singer into the 70s club – noting he had preceded her there by three years.

“It’s a wonderful world…it’s so beautiful,” the Spanish tenor said before launching into “Happy Birthday” to Kiri.

Te Kanwa, who is of half-Maori descent, made a name for herself singing countesses and duchesses in Mozart and Strauss operas

She todlr eporters that she was “thrilled” to be celebrating such a momentus birthday at Covent Garden, on the same stage where she had her first big international success singing the role of Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figar  in 1971.

“It is really my home house, I did everything from here, wrong or right, right or wrong, but I had some wonderful experiences at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and made some wonderful old friends,” she said.

So what does Te Kanwa believe is the secret to holding on to the quality of her voice after all these years?

She says it has all come down to being gentle with it during nearly 40 years on the opera stage.

“I suppose I’m really quite surprised that my voice is in such good shape but I never really did it a lot of damage, I didn’t do the wrong things,” she told reporters backstage before the performance.

“Sometimes I overworked and of course you pay the price but my voice is still good, the high notes are still there – maybe not as high as it used to be but still at age 70 I’m not quite sure who sings top D’s anyway,” Te Kanawa added about the note at the top end of the soprano range.

Perhaps that is why she more recently was invited to perform in an episode of the award-winning British dram Downtown Abbey.

While most international television viewers will recognise Dame Kiri from her stage performances and recordings – they will now also have the chance to sample the soprano’s acting skills as she brings to life the role of another famous soprano. – Dame Nellie Melba.

“It was a  wonderful experience,” the opera singer said of her most recent television debut, adding that she particularly enjoyed meeting all the cast and getting “lots and lots of pictures.”

She also got a kick out of knowing how the show ended months ahead of time – wouldn’t we all!

“We just said it was going to be dramatic and that’s all we would say – we didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on in the script,” Te Kanawa said, remaining tight-lipped about the story line.


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