Cher Public

Blonde faith

On this day in 1974 soprano Kiri Te Kanawa made an “emergency” Met debut and broadcast debut as Desdemona. 

Allen Hughes in The New York Times:

Her company debut in the part had been planned for March 7, but on Saturday morning Teresa Stratas, who had been scheduled to appear in this season’s first performance of Otello, reported that she was not feeling well enough to sing, and Miss Te Kanawa had to replace her.

Miss Te Kanawa won the audience from the very beginning, and did not lose it. Her voice had a lovely fresh sound, her vocal production was smooth, her singing was eloquent and her acting was touching and invariably believable. She is slim and attractive, and the impression she made as Desdemona was satisfying in every way.

The soprano of Maori descent began her big-time opera career a scant three years ago at London’s Covent Garden opera house. Since then she has appeared with the San Francisco and Santa Fe opera companies here and has sung Desdemona with the Scottish Opera and in Berlin. She should prove to be a most welcome addition to the Metropolitan roster, and it will be interesting to see and hear her in other roles.

  • Baron Douphol

    I was at that performance . It was a saturday matinee broadcast and as diehard Stratas fans we were all in attendance for what was to be her role debut as Desdemona, Major groan when the curtain parted and the Dame was presented. Well she showed us . It was a glorious performance certainly the best I’ve ever heard from her, ever!

    • Camille

      Did Stratas then sing Desdemona either in this run or later on? I don’t recall anything about her in this role at all, and would seem very heavy orchestration and lower tessitura for her, but, they all
      like to sing it, so ….

      • Baron Douphol

        Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. As memory serves, she sang the rest of the run which made Kiri sound extra good. Don’t think she kept it in her active file having heard her later in the run. It nestled next to her Butterfly in that file. Though there she sang a “e torna e m”ama” that got an overwhelming ovation. The best since Steber’s.

    • Baron Douphol

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. As memory serves, she sang the rest of the run which made Kiri sound extra good. Don’t think she kept it in her active file having heard her later in the run. It nestled next to her Butterfly in that file. Though there she sang a “e torna e m”ama” that got an overwhelming ovation. The best since Steber’s. Oh well

  • I know not everyone like Te Kanawa. But I’ve always loved her voice and thought that she used it tastefully. Desdemona was probably her best non Mozart/Strauss role.

    • Camille

      When she was good, she was good.

      The first time I ever heard Dame Kiri’s voice was, honest to god, on the old FEDORA recording with Olivero and Del Monaco. She played the little boy in the first act who comes up with the culprit’s name “Ipanov!” There was just something, and I have no idea what it was, that made me pick that record album up to find out the name, and remembered it because it was so strange to me — I didn’t even really know what gender it was. Because it was so bizarre I remembered it, and then recognised her later on when she became more well known, which wasn’t all that long after.

      One of the reasons I’m always listening to everyone when I go to the opera as one just never knows when one will hear the next great Madame XXX or Monsieur ZZZ. It’s just the queerest thing, really.

    • PCally

      I think Te Kansas without a doubt had one of the most naturally beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard and clearly had a fairly secure technique. Much of her 1970s work is absolutely lovely (there’s a lovely Amelia from 1975 that in terms of ease and beauty is probably the best I’ve heard). And that broadcast desdemona is very special. And while I think Fiordiligi may have tested her, her early performances in the part have an exceptionally atypical throwing caution to the wind approach that I love and believe to be the right way to go about that particular part.

      I just think that for whatever reason virtually all of her later work is totally without any point of view and usually completely uninvolved to the extent that I often wonder if she knows what she’s singing about. By the time I got around to seeing her (Amelia, Arabella, Countess’) the voice had lost a lot of juice and she crooned and basically marked her way through the “non-important” moments (i.e. the recits). This was late for her so I was happy enough to overlook some lost luster. But all four times she forgot words, came in late, and generally looked like she didn’t even want to be there. Keep in mind these were all roles she’d been singing for years and ostensibly should have posed no challenge for her. There just was not legitimate reason for her to be as unprepared and indifferent as she seemed on each occasion and it made me lose a great of respect and goodwill for her, especially considering how many accomplished singers there were in the rep she specialized in (a lot of the mud that gets flung at Fleming I think is actually more true of Te Kanawa)

      • August

        Kiri Te Kansas. Best thing I’ve read all day.

        • PCally

          Okay?

      • Camille

        Very interesting and I’d pretty much say the same: you had to catch her early on.

        Live, I only heard her late in the day, a respectable enough Countess Madeleine and a near voiceless Vanessa, in what turned out to be one of her very last actual opera performances. A lot was mitigated though by her ever classy and beautiful demeanor and appearance.

        When later on I saw RF’s turn in Capriccio though, I was pretty damned glad I’d first been to Dame Kiri’s. Yes.

        • PCally

          Funny, I tend to be allergic to Fleming in Strauss (brings out her worst mannerisms) but I remember loving her Grafin in Vienna, a new production and an all star cast. The later met performance was a shadow of that. Te Kanawa at the met I thought was pretty dismal in the part but I do like her San Francisco DVD of the role quite a bit (with Troyanos) where she’s in good late career voice and manages to be fairly witty and vulnerable in a natural way, very much the opposite of Fleming’s approach. I thought everything had calcified by the time she got to New York in the part that it just seemed like she was going through the motions.

          • Camille

            Oh yes, the San Francisoc way better for Dame KIri. That one has a memorable and poignant turn by Troyanos as well?

            That Parisian, I believe, Carsen installation, with Née-Née is the one I like although have only seen the final scene and should go dig up the rest.

            Best seen at Glyndebourne or somewhere similar and not at the Big Box 20th c. TV station of the MET.

            • PCally

              Yeah the Paris DVD is the one I own and I think it’s definitely worth seeking out. Capriccio isn’t really an opera I care that much about and I’m not really crazy about any of the ladies who’ve recorded the part, so I’m not really the best at deciding whose absolutely ideal in the part.

        • Armerjacquino

          Camille, I think a friend of mine was in that VANESSA.

          The one and only time I saw Te Kanawa was in the late 80s at CG, as Elvira on the night that poor old Makvala Kashrasvili got booed for not being Margaret Price. KTK was wonderful both vocally and dramatically (what a relief for Elvira to be FUNNY!) so I think I got lucky.

          • Camille

            Who was your friend? The Erika, the Anatol, the Doctor, the Major-Domo, or the Footman? Appear as if they all could have been UK.

            Rosalind Elias did kind of steal it from them ALL, just by BEING THERE and sitting in her chair.

            • Armerjacquino

              I think my (American, fwiw) pal Lucy sang Erika with KTK and Elias at one point.

            • Camille

              Yes, I remember her as she was good, and further, made an astounding fall from a staircase in that ballroom scene. I was scared to death she had really injured herself, for it was that realistic. Poor Kiri really did sing her last operatic performances then and there, I found out much later. She was always so lovely, however, that it was nice to see her.

              Patrick Mack, another admirer of this work, also saw these performances and may be able to fill you in some more, if you happen to speak with him.

            • Armerjacquino

              Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed her performance. She’s been brilliant every time I’ve seen her, both as actor and singer.

  • Camille

    At Carnegie Hall to hear Maestro Muti and Madame Margaine in “Poème de l’amour et de la mer” again, the first time in over thirty-five years so am happy! More later.

    • August

      Never a good thing when the best part is the encore. Me thinks Maestro Muti has lost his mojo. For instance, I thought the Salzburg Aida went by the numbers. No smoke. No fire. Nothing lasts forever for nobody.

      • Camille

        Aha! That thought did cross my mind, however—do bear in mind he is approaching his 77th birthday this year and has had an incident with his heart some years back (was a pacemaker installed or something else) and NO—nothing goes on forever (except for Bernard Haitink whom I heard a year or so ago at age 87 and he was great), so that’s why I am going to hear him all that I can and while I can.

        The program was a bit weird and disjunctive with an early Diaghilev-audition Fantaisie by Stravinsky followed by a new piece for brass section plus orchestra by Jennifer Higdon—intermission—Chausson’s overripe plum Poème de l’amour et de la mer sung in an unintelligible and unanimated manner by a mezzo I am now crossing off my to-see list, then followed by Britten’s excerpts of seascape music from Peter Grimes, and in which he did accomplish whipping up a mighty storm. All in all, not exactly the best programming and seemingly a bit all on auto-pilot. Following fast on the heels of the magisterial performances by Mssrs Goerne and Trifonov on last Tuesday it came in way behind. Such is concert-going life. You win a few and mostly lose the rest!