Opera legend gives her first Athens show

In her first official visit to Athens, world-renowned opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is scheduled to perform at the Herod Atticus Theater tonight. Having sung in Olympia and Patras in the past, the New Zealand-born diva, who has only been in Athens on holiday so far, will unravel her talent accompanied by the Serbian Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Julian Reynolds. Making her breakthrough as the Countess in Mozart’s popular opera «Le Nozze di Figaro» in 1971, Te Kanawa has, to this day, worked with acclaimed orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as distinguished conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Sir Colin Davis and Zubin Mehta among others. Her recordings include most well-known operas, but she has also released albums with songs by Gershwin, traditional Maori songs and American musicals. She sang the part of Maria in the so-called «operatic version» of Leonard Bernstein’s «West Side Story» in 1985, a production which won a Grammy Award. Te Kanawa has received many distinctions and awards and was also named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982. In 1981 she sang Handel’s «Let the Bright Seraphim» at the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, an event which approximately 600 million people watched around the world. «Why did it take me so long to come to Athens? Because I wasn’t invited!» said the 62-year-old opera singer at a press conference held in Athens on Wednesday. Tonight’s program will consist of highlights from her career – arias from famous operas, including «Carmen» and «Le Nozze di Figaro» – but also excerpts from musicals by Bernstein, Gershwin and others. Unfortunately, local audiences will not have the opportunity to listen to her perform any of the traditional Maori songs. «I sing them many times, but not this time,» she said. While revealing that she plans to spend her time in Athens doing lots of shopping, she also said she was very excited to perform at the Herod Atticus, which she described as «one of the most famous skylines in the world.» In 2004, she founded a charity organization to help upcoming vocalists in Auckland. «The foundation is for singers who are already advanced in their careers and they have to be of exceptional talent. We do not start from a very young age,» she pointed out. Although she supports aspiring singers and has run workshops in various colleges, she said she is not really keen on introducing younger vocalists by inviting them to perform with her on stage, even though she did that in Iceland last year. «It is a nice idea, but sometimes they are too nervous. It is hard to present someone who is not used to standing up in front of 2,000 people,» she explained. She expressed her firm belief that opera is not a dying art but can look forward to a good future, despite the fact that at times it may seem that it is not in good hands. An opera career though requires many sacrifices, as she pointedly added. «I look after myself, I don’t smoke, shout or go to parties,» she said. «For such a career you cannot have any abuse.» When asked about her favorite aria, she said she did not have one. «I have been asked this many times. Whatever I’m singing is my favorite, because I don’t have any ‘unfavorites.’ If I did, I wouldn’t be singing them,» she said. London-born conductor Julian Reynolds has toured with Te Kanawa in Europe and the Far East and has collaborated with various orchestras across the world. Founded in 1937, the Serbian Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra is one of Serbia’s most prominent music ensembles. It has successfully toured around various European countries as well as Morocco and has enjoyed collaborations with conductors like Mstislav Rostropovich and Vladimir Fedoseyev. For tickets contact the Hellenic Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000) or the Elva company, tel 210.672.8079.