Playlist: The best of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Hugo Shirley Tue 15th August 2017

Any Kiri Te Kanawa playlist has to focus on Mozart and Richard Strauss, the two composers for which her voice and musicianship made her so ideally suited – in roles for which her glamorous, aristocratic stage persona certainly didn’t do any harm either. It was as Mozart’s melancholy Countess that she made her breakthrough, at the Royal Opera House in 1971, and she recorded the role for Sir Georg Solti’s all-star-cast Le nozze di Figaro (alongside Thomas Allen, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade and Lucia Popp) a decade later. The soprano’s characteristic silvery voice, always employed with restraint and taste, is also what makes her Strauss roles special (her Marschallin, Capriccio Countess and Arabella are preserved on disc). Few singers have led the famous trio from Der Rosenkavalier with such tenderness as she does in Bernard Haitink’s 1990 Dresden set – a recording that the soprano herself described as one of her finest achievements, and for which she’s joined by Anne Sofie von Otter and Barbara Hendricks. Te Kanawa’s Puccini was used to memorable effect in Merchant Ivory’s film A Room with a View: ‘O mio babbino caro’ is heard over the opening credits, but her unusually seductive take on ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ from La rondine (a work she recorded in full) is also memorably employed. The sheer beauty of the voice can perhaps be best experienced in the intimate context of song, and a Decca recital with Roger Vignoles at the piano, and released in 1990, finds her on especially beguiling form in Liszt’s tender ‘Oh, quand je dors’. Her rightly famous recording of Joseph Canteloube’s sun-drenched Chants d’Auvergne offers another welcome opportunity to wallow in the voice’s sensual allure: she catches the dreamy world of ‘Baïlèro’ especially well. Te Kanawa was a soprano whose fame – and repertoire – spread well beyond the confines of the classical and operatic worlds, and film buffs and opera-lovers alike will be fascinated to hear her recording of ‘Aria from Salammbô’, a fin-de-siècle pastiche composed by Bernard Herrmann as part of his score for 1941 Orson Welles movie, Citizen Kane. In the film it’s sung badly – deliberately so – but Te Kanawa’s recording makes you wish the whole opera actually existed.

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