A champagne commercial during a football game was my introduction to Kiri Te Kanawa back in the early nineties. It was before I had a home computer — no YouTube, and no Google. It took several long-distance phone calls, including one to the distillery, but I was persistent. The soundtrack to the commercial was
“O mio babbino caro” — a Puccini aria. I was hooked. Now it’s football season again and my musical tastes return to opera.
My interests quickly evolved into Wagner’s Ring Cycle and then into live performances by the Baton Rouge Opera. While I never learned to speak any foreign languages, opera — with or without the supertitles — spoke to me on other levels. The thrill of a live performance, the emotion of the cast, the amazement of seeing and hearing a diva open her mouth and have such amazing sounds come out all grabbed me like an octopus’s many tentacles. In high school chorus I had witnessed young singers struggling to reach difficult notes, but someone like Kiri Te Kanawa does it effortlessly, and repeatedly. Marvelous!
Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Mozart and R. Strauss is a two-CD set and was released on August 3. There are no new recordings on the album as it is a compilation of Ms. Te Kanawa’s previously recorded material. The selections are divided by composer, one CD for each. The first disc opens with two selections from Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart and is a reminder of her first appearance at London’s Royal Opera House in that same opera. The New Zealander was twenty-seven years old at the time and what a future awaited. The listings do not provide the dates of each individual track in this collection but it doesn’t matter. Her voice is strong, clear, and precise on every one. Two of the last four Mozart tracks are concert arias, “Bella mia fiamma, addio…Resta, o cara, K528” and “nehmt meinen Dank ihr holden Gonner!, K383.”
When George Hall wrote the liner notes for this album, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was about to make what had been announced as her final operatic stage appearance (April 2010). However, she is not retiring from concert work and her other interests. He writes that her devotion to Strauss resulted in her having been chosen for the premiere performance of the composer’s last song. “Malven” was written in 1948 but not heard publicly until Te Kanawa’s 1985 performance.
The work of Richard Strauss is the subject of the second CD in this set and begins with “Four Last Songs” and also includes six selections from “Arabella.” My favorite selection on this disc is “Die Nacht, op.10 no.3,” in which she is accompanied by Sir Georg Solti on piano. It’s a performance made beautiful by his understated piano which complements her emotional performance — one that makes you stop and listen even closer.
Would I buy Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Mozart and R. Strauss ? Yes! It’s going to be a long football season!