Dame Kiri Te Kanawa: 'I don't really have holidays'

By Nick Trend

Opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa tells Nick Trend about what she loves in travel.

The striking landscape of Fagrifoss, in Iceland. Photo / Thinkstock
The striking landscape of Fagrifoss, in Iceland. Photo / Thinkstock

How often do you travel?

All the time. For as long as I can remember my life has included suitcases, empty or packed and waiting.

What do you need for a perfect holiday?

I enjoy freedom from pressure, no electronics, meals I don't have to cook, good air to breathe and pleasing sights, which I can linger and enjoy, without hurry and without crowds.

Your most adventurous travel experience?

I've been on safari in Africa and although it's very organised and safe, it comes close to an "adventurous" experience for me. But a visit into the mountains near Beirut was genuinely adventurous, surrounded by people in military gear, rockets ready to fire, and constant attention from the area's private militia - 10,000-men strong. Certainly different from life in Sussex.

Favourite destination?

When I first went to Iceland I didn't know what to expect. But it made such an impression on me I've been back several times since - I love the place. The vistas can be stark but awe-inspiring. I imagine that being on the moon might have a similarly unusual kind of beauty. Plus there aren't crowds of people - and I can go fly fishing there.

Favourite city to perform in?

Obviously my first loyalty is to Britain and Covent Garden in London. I couldn't expect audiences to be any more appreciative than theirs. But I also relished the times I've performed in New York, where the organisation is efficient, the atmosphere warm and supportive, and the audiences very demonstrative.

Favourite venue to sing in?

To misquote Mary I, when I die they'll find "Covent Garden" engraved on my heart. Winchester Cathedral is also a wonderful space to sing in. Recently, I did a concert in a ninth-century Norman church, which was an attractive venue with pleasing acoustics and a strong sense of British history.

Your most memorable performance?

It's hard to pick the most memorable one from my 43 years of performing. My first performance in opera was Dido and Aeneas in 1968, and one of my final ones was Der Rosenkavalier in 2010. But I'm not likely to forget my debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as Desdemona in Othello. I wasn't due to go on for another week or so, but the soprano doing the first week suddenly became ill and I was told at 11am that I must replace her at 2pm that afternoon. I had no rehearsal with the orchestra, no familiarity with the rest of the cast, nor the shape and size of the stage or the scenery, and it was to take place on the one day when the performance is broadcast live on radio. My taxi nearly couldn't make it to the theatre because of a snowstorm, but it all came together better then you could ever dream of.

Favourite hotel?

The Okura in Tokyo. It is peaceful, quiet and the service is constant and seemingly invisible.

Favourite restaurant?

The Dining Room at The Goring hotel in London. The lobster omelette there is a first-class culinary experience.

Favourite airline?

Air New Zealand - need you ask?

Worst travel experience?

I was in New York on September 11, 2001. The shock was dreadful, the city was in an appalling state, and what the media coverage couldn't portray was the awful smell of explosives and destruction. I was focused on trying to get to San Francisco to begin a nationwide concert tour starting three days later. Airports were closed, communication was made almost impossible, and all information was incoherent. I did make it out of the city on time but being part of the experience was disturbing.

What do you hate about holidays?

I don't really have holidays - I have "time away". When I'm away from home and things have been going well, I'm sometimes faintly reluctant about leaving and going back to the real world. But when a holiday hasn't gone well I look forward to getting out of there and being back home.

Best piece of travel advice?

Keep your passport in exactly the same place at all times, so you can find it in an instant. Always arrive early at an airport, and don't allow yourself to get uptight about anything. The old slogan "keep calm and carry on" is a good one.

Where next?

This month, I will be heading to Majorca for the Formentor Sunset Classics series at Barcelo Formentor. The backdrop for this open-air concert is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world. I'm joining [F1 legend] Jackie Stewart for a cruise on the Hebridean Princess to the Highlands and the Western Isles this year too. And this year I'll be in Finland - but I've never been to Greenland. That's on the list of places I'd like to visit, to see polar bears.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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