Wednesday 25 April 2018

Kiri -- still drawing the crowds with her outstanding arias

It was a case of 'returns only' at the National Concert Hall last Wednesday night for one of the most highly respected sopranos in the world today, Kiri Te Kanawa. Although in 2002 she began to scale back her appearances on the opera stage, she has continued to perform concerts and recitals.

The acclaimed soprano shot to stardom in the 1970s with a series of appearances at Covent Garden. Her first big success was as the Countess in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in 1971.

That was followed by a run of Mozart operas and, among others, a production of Puccini's La Bohème in which she sang Mimi. Her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1974 as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello was widely acclaimed.

In 1981 she sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, where her rendering of Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim reached a worldwide television audience of more than 600 million.

Her versatility as a singer is impressive. In 1984, Leonard Bernstein decided to re-record his musical West Side Story. Generally known as the "operatic version", Te Kanawa played Maria, and José Carreras, Tony. It won a Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album in 1985.

I'm not always a fan of opera singers taking on musical theatre, it doesn't always work, but Te Kanawa was a stunning Maria and can sing Bernstein or Gershwin as impressively as Mozart or Handel.

Indeed, in addition to singing on a great number of opera recordings, Te Kanawa has produced a number of popular recordings, including Kiri Sings Gershwin (1987), Kiri Sings Porter (1994), Kiri Sings Berlin (1998), and Maori Songs (1999).

Much of Dame Kiri's energy over the past few years has focused on the masterclass circuit. She is generous in sharing her experience with young singers and described a recent masterclass that she gave as "bringing the cream to the top of the milk". She is aware of how sensitive a young singer can be too though saying: "The delicacy of the psyche is so tender that you've got to be very careful you don't do or say the wrong thing."

Her recital as part of The National Concert Hall's International Concert Series with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra included a selection of great arias by Bizet, Gershwin and Massenet.

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Saturdays) 2-4pm and Sunday Matinee on Sundays at noon on RTÉ lyric fm

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