Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's Aotea Centre recital, with pianist Terence Dennis, was a courageous undertaking for the 72-year-old soprano. It was an evening of some entrancement.
In elegant blouse and skirt, with hands clasped, this could have been the young Kiri singing for Dame Sister Mary Leo. When dramatic potential came along, as in an early Puccini song, later requisitioned for La Boheme, she revealed the vitality and fire that have delighted opera audiences for decades.
One sensed caution in an opening bracket of Mozart, Vivaldi and Handel; one missed ornamentation that would have enhanced repeated sections, and elegant piano proved no substitute for Baroque band but vocally, Te Kanawa's intelligence and musicianship never faltered.
A set of French songs would have benefited from a fuller vocal lustre, although a navigation through a Berlioz Villanelle was agreeably nimble.
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Jake Heggie's song-cycle Newer Every Day, written expressly for Te Kanawa, skilfully caught the interiorised poetry of Emily Dickinson with unexpected coloratura and punchy humour that produced merriment in the stalls.
The last songs were very much a revisiting of Te Kanawa's 2014 recital. Scarborough Fair seemed a mite over-artified this time around, although Heggie's Masterclass Monologue remained a palpable show-stopper.
If a Luther Vandross ballad was no longer a novelty at encore time, farewelling us with "O mio babbino caro," once a calling card for the soprano, stirred memories and admiration.
What: Kiri Te Kanawa
Where and when: Aotea Centre, Thursday