In farewell (or not), Kiri Te Kanawa demonstrates her lasting vocal beauty
For quite a while now, there has been talk of Kiri Te Kanawa retiring, at least from the opera stage. But each time someone declares that she's heading for the exit door, she says (as she did to me in a phone interview the other day), "Hang on."
That happened again Saturday night when Te Kanawa (or Dame Kiri, as Her Majesty's subjects would say -- she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire 27 years ago) gave what was billed as her "farewell" DC recital, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center. The glamorous, decidedly youthful-looking 65-year-old soprano took a moment during the concert to say, in essence, "Hang on." She suggested that, since she had performed in Washington "on average every five years" since 1982, she could well be back. If she sounds half as good in 2014 as she did Saturday, I say, bring her on.
I don't want to overstate the situation in this recital. Te Kanawa did not
The program was weighted towards slow, often soft pieces -- "I don't apologize," Te Kanawa told the crowd, "I sing them because I like them" -- and that gave the soprano abundant opportunity to float many an exquisite, long-held note. Liszt's "Oh! Quand je dors" was one example; Canteloube's "La Delaissado" was another.
I wish the soprano had gone in for full embellishment of the melodic lines in a couple of Handel arias, but her noble phrasing provided ample reward. It would also have been nice to hear a little emotion on the word "Helas!" in Faure's "Apres un reve," but her appraoch to that gem of a song certainly was, well, dreamy. A group of Strauss songs was delivered with vintage Te Kanawa sensitivity.
In a gracious touch, she shared the stage with the WPAS Children of the Gospel Choir -- quite the crowd-pleasing ensemble -- for the "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" and the classic Cesar Franck hymn "Panis Angelicus." Directed by Stanley J. Thurston (he didn't need to conduct so broadly), the young singers had some intonation slippage, but proved quite expressive.
In her concluding group of Italian songs, including a couple by Puccini, Te Kanawa sang with a good deal of character and nuance. There were two encores -- "O mio babbino caro" and a Maori folk song, "Po Kari-Kari Anna," the latter sung a cappella to particularly entrancing effect.
The classical music world, just like those of the pop culture variety, craves -- and maybe even needs -- stars. Te Kanawa has long been one of the brightest. As this recital demonstrated, she's still glowing.
PHOTO BY JOHN SWANNELL COURTESY OF WPAS