Monday, August 26, 2013
Kiri Te Kanawa at 70 on This Week TVNZ One
Kiri Te Kanawa New Zealand's opera diva gave a very frank interview on NZTV on the approach of her 70th birthday. In my 20's Te Kanawa was one of my peers that I truly admired. She attained a standard of excellence and position that I strived to achieve. True I had London at my feet and my own dressing room at the Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Ave but it was a comedy lead in a musical and not at Covent Garden!
All my life I had envied Te Kanawa. She seemed to have that silver spoon of door opening that was not given to the rest of us. For her first performance of the Countess in Figaro at Covent Garden which I was lucky enough to attended she was given a year and a young conductor, James Robertson, to prepare. I was given two days to learn my part and no dress rehearsal!
Her career went from strength to strength while the rest of us had to struggle although it must be admitted that my career has been exceptional and not without its rewards. Modestly I shall admit that in 1982 Auckland made me Women the Year for services to Opera and Ballet. I had stood up to the Council in a manner that would have made Joan of Arc proud!
So it was with some trepidation that a friend thought I should be introduced to the Diva. I have suffered at the hands of divas before as my introduction to Margot Fonteyn had proved a warning to meeting one's idols. She was horrible to a little 13 year old and later regretted it and apologised. I knew Kiri had repaid James Robertson by getting him sacked.
This took place on the night that Te Kanawa was made a Doctor of Music at Auckland University. The occasion was not one of the most memorable of my life. Like Madame Du Barry at the hands of petulant Marie Antoinette my introduction to Te Kanawa proved to be an embarrassment for all concerned except the Diva.
I was introduced as the woman who had done so much for opera in Auckland. Madam Te Kanawa was not impressed. The Diva turned, looked me in the eyes and turned away and continued talking as though I had never existed. Not a word was said. I was cut, dismissed, put in my place. I was definitely not getting my name on her Christmas Card list. Consequently I gave Madam Te Kanawa a wide birth.
Sadly this sort of behaviour has not been a one off. It is written about in some detail in Kiri - The Unofficial Biography. It appears after forcing the City Council to build her an opera house her behaviour was so outrageous when asked to sing in it that she was banned from singing there again and has had her statue removed. The place is now empty for most of the year. A white elephant to a diva.
Even news reporters were intimidated by her until last night when a very chastened yet still feisty Kiri gave what could be her last major interview on NZ TV. But Kiri has soldiered on in spite of her reputation.
She looked tired and sad in spite of some classy dresses. She gave the impression of well was it worth it? She appeared to be trying to justify her lack of self control and her rudeness to a country that gave her everything. Kiri had everything, money, fame, publicity, help when other singers equally good like our Dame Malvina Major had to struggle for any recognition and funding at all. She complained that she had had it hard! We know she didn't. Kiri has been treated all her life like a princess.
Kiri and I are of a similar age but at this moment I do not envy her. In fact I felt sorry for her. Maybe I did not hit the heights but I certainly did not leave a trail of rudeness behind me.
But she soldiers on. Her rudeness was still visible as she bullied young singers in a recording studio which is not the way to get the best out of young inexperienced singers. She does not know the secret of when to stop. We all have to stop one day.
Divas whether balletic or operatic can be extremely unpleasant to deal with. Katherine Battle a delicious coloratura soprano had the reputation of Battle by name and Battle by nature till at last no opera house would take the chance and employ her. I had a run in with a current USA Diva in Wellington when this said madonna refused to go on one night and had the president of the opera down begging on his knees before she would condescend to sing.
Unwisely this terrifying woman was still employed by the company in opera I was directing and turned up singing a different translation which with copyright being so litigious these days was a breach of contract and then when given the direction to stand still as she was jiggling about poured out a stream of bad language the like of which I have never heard before or since.
It was a case of she goes or I went and she went. I hope that she has changed. I doubt it.
So take care to be very nice on the way up and down. It is advisable to leave an attractive legacy. These days with the growth of the internet your sins will find you out. One or two are bouts of bad behaviour are allowable, none of us is perfect but years of rudeness will reap a grim reward.