Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Opera Singer

World-renowned opera singer and the first New Zealander to win a Grammy Award

In 1971, a young New Zealand opera singer was introduced to the British public for the first time. Appearing on the hugely popular Harry Secombe Show, Kiri Te Kanawa proudly showcased her Māori heritage, wearing a sleeveless coat decorated with kōwhaiwhai, as she wrapped her controlled voice around the foreign words of Puccini's Chi il bel sogno di Doretta.

As she hit the final sustained note of the verse, the camera cut in close to catch her warm, wide-eyed expression slip away. A satisfyingly self-assured look flashed across her face. She knew what was coming next.


With an upward flick of her hair she abruptly cut off the note. The camera switched to a low angled, full body shot, alluding to the fact she was about to knock the viewer off their feet.

Her technique is clear, flawless. But it's the emotion, the open-heartedness and depth of feeling that is projected, leaving the viewer captivated and gobsmacked.

Shot in black and white, Te Kanawa's warm, full-bodied voice fills viewers with colour. It is the exact moment a star is born.

Since then, she has sung for queens and princes - her voice beamed to more than 750 million viewers when she performed at Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding in 1981.

Two years later, she became the first New Zealander to win a Grammy Award, when she claimed the best opera recording prize in 1983.

Over the course of her five-decade career, she won countless awards and honorary degrees. She had the first gold record ever produced in New Zealand and started the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to support the next generation of New Zealand singers. She has sung all the great operas with all of the greatest opera singers.

Last year, in an interview with the BBC, Te Kanawa announced she would never sing again.