Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

14.7.08

Kiri Te Kanawa Exits Gracefully (of Course)

These days Kiri Te Kanawa is doing more than criticizing other musicians popera stars for catching underwear thrown at them; in fact, she is still singing, although she retired from the operatic stage in 2002 (after appearing in Vanessa at Washington National Opera). To large crowds on Friday night, the beloved New Zealand-born soprano made her debut appearance at Wolf Trap. It was also her "farewell" to the Washington area (after similar programs last fall in New York and elsewhere): although she claims that she has more years of performing in her, she is unlikely to come back to this part of the woods. Dame Kiri ended strong, with a deliciously programmed Filene Center recital with the National Symphony Orchestra. At a time when Te Kanawa could easily have coasted on typical summer superstar fare, how refreshing that, with the exception of two of Mimi's arias from La Bohème, her choices of repertoire were unexpected and yet not off-putting, not least because they are music long associated with her name.

Te Kanawa opened with a set of Richard Strauss songs, which set the tone of distant reverie with a dreamy rendition of Morgen!. Sadly, some of the distance was due to a malfunction of the Filene Center's sound system, making the amplification level of Te Kanawa's microphone far too low for the orchestra for the first half. Associate concertmaster Elisabeth Adkins had a lovely, plaintive tone on the song's solo violin part, so much so that one did not miss the electric vibrato of her colleague Nurit Bar-Josef. Emil de Cou, the NSO's prodigiously talented associated conductor, matched Te Kanawa's adventurous choices with similar orchestral selections, off the beaten path but easy to enjoy. The Strauss set was introduced with the first waltz sequence from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. At times, the orchestra was not particularly sensitive or responsive to de Cou's gesture, but the slow sections had a charming, bucolic sound. The Strauss opening made it clear that this was not going to be a summer pops kind of program, but something more subtle, sentimental in a melancholy way.

available at Amazon
Canteloube, Chants d'Auvergne, Kiri Te Kanawa
That tone continued with Te Kanawa's set from Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, which closed the first half. It took my mind back to one of Te Kanawa's most beautiful recordings, now available in a discounted 2-CD set, with the complete Canteloube set and the equally lovely Villa-Lobos Bachianas brasileiras. While the oboe solos were fraught with sour intonation, Lisa Emenheiser provided ethereal, harp-like arpeggiation in Baïlèro (from Series 1). Birds in the rafters of the Filene Center twittered in counterpoint to the lush sounds of the NSO in these songs, although they were drowned out by the whirling, airy spinning wheel in Lo Fiolairé (from Series 3).

Other Articles:

Joe Banno, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, July 14)

Colin Eatock, She's Dame Folksy, at the end of the day (The Globe and Mail, July 12)

Valerie Hill, 'The barn' lands world-class voice (The Record, July 9)
The sound problems were worked out for the second half, and it revealed nonetheless that although there is still considerable beauty and power in Te Kanawa's voice, it is no longer the silken miracle that it once was. The Mimi pieces drew the most applause, but it was the final selection that struck me the most, "Io sono l'umile ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur, a statement about the mystery of singing (acting, performing) more moving than "Vissi d'arte." Its final two lines -- "My voice is but a sigh / That will die tomorrow" -- seemed particularly poignant at the end of this concert. The NSO came together and played with well-paced energy and impressive unity in the later orchestral selections, especially the overture to Auber's Fra Diavolo. The clarinet solos in the Coronation March from Meyerbeer's Le Prophète were a high point, as was the mousse-like meringue of the Dance of the Hours from Ponchielli's La Gioconda. The latter work was introduced by Emil de Cou, whose winning way with the microphone had the audience once again eating out of his hand.

My speculation for Te Kanawa's encores centered on Mozart. While that was not to be fulfilled, the first choice was, once again, a most pleasant surprise, Mariettas Lied ("Glück das mir verblieb") from Die tote Stadt for the Korngold year. She sang that aria at the Met Gala in 2006 for Joseph Volpe (the video is embedded below), and you can make a comparison of that performance with this video of Te Kanawa from earlier in her career. The second encore, dreaded by some and longed for by others, was "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess this won't get published, but a difficulty I have is that Dame Kiri had arrived back in New Zealand after doing a duet with Popera Star Katherine Jenkins and was on her way to do a concert in which she was to share the stage with popera star Will Martin, when she took time out to attack a warbler of easy listening ballads who has performed about three arias in five years.

Hayley Westenra's repetoire contains less core classical material than Nana Mouskouri's and she has never affected an operatic style in the manner of Charlotte Church or other singers in the "popera", as it's called, genre. She's a warbler of middle-of-the road ballads who has done a little - a very little - crossover.

And this is not the first time that Dame Kiri has attacked her in public, and Dame Kiri has avoided meeting her, and when the did meet by accident she stuck her nose in the air and walked off very ungracefully.

What is it about Miss Westenra that she so dislikes? The theft of her "signature tune" Pokarekare Ana? Or does she resent the fame and attention someone who isn't a friend of Prince Charles's like her is getting?

She does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about her.

Anonymous said...

She LISTENS to Hayley, so she doesn't dislike her. She simply says they live in two separate worlds. It's like comparing apples to oranges. She's also worried about the young ones singing without much real training. After more than 40 years of recording she still checks with a singing teacher. I was at both of the above mentioned performances LIVE and there is very little real difference in Kiri's voice in the most important ways. The years have been kind to her in many ways and that is what she hopes for these younger singers. There were encores at Wolftrap that were from Carlos Guastavino. I was having to tell people what the pieces were. I have music by both ladies and like both. They ARE in different worlds, each is great in her own way.