Few would have been drawn to this Gala Concert by the possibility of unexpected musical fare. In an evening of well-known arias and choruses, the lure was Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's presence.
We were here to celebrate the renaming of the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre in her honour.
The Freemasons NZ Opera Chorus framed proceedings with the familiar Whakaarie Mai
and Hine e Hine and, in a resolutely Italian line-up, thrilled with a climactic few minutes from Wagner.
Anna Leese seemed a mite nervous at first with her deftly turned Merce, diletti amiche but easily won our hearts with a Kiri classic, O mio babbino caro. An incandescent Pene Pati was the star, his glorious Una furtiva lagrima reminding us of the tenor's on stage triumph in last year's The Elixir of Love.
Pati's magnetic brand of effortless lyricism made for a memorable Pearl Fishers duet with James Ioelu and an engaging 17 minutes from La Boheme with Leese. Confined to a square metre of stage, the two took us to the opera house as characters Rodolfo and Mimi. Pati got laughs with some waggish stage business; Leese impressed with her minutely observed characterisation.
We'd been forewarned that Dame Kiri would not be singing but she did come on stage. Her warm reminiscences of the Aotea Centre's beginnings included her playfully recalling her forthright demands at the time. "I'm not going to sing in a crap opera house," she remembered. "I'm far too grand for that."
A series of video greetings from young singers she's helped included a touch of trickery worthy of an opera buffa denouement. An onscreen Ipu Laga'aia appeared on stage, singing Granada to his own guitar and coaxing the good dame to dance.
An encore of Libiamo from La Traviata, fuelled by an effervescent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under Giordano Bellincampi, closed the evening appropriately in party spirits.
What: A Gala Concert in the Presence of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Where: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre – Aotea Centre
Reviewer: William Dart