There is no one quite like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa 

Unlike their pop-star counterparts — who, it seems, never can really say goodbye — when an opera diva closes the door to arias, it stays shut.

Soit will be a singular treat for Bay Area music lovers when Kiri Te Kanawa — DBE, ONZ and other acronymed royal honors — commands the concert hall stage in San Rafael this weekend for a rare

performance she says will be her last in the Bay Area.

The New Zealand star, with an affinity for Strauss heroines, formally retired her classical repertoire with Barber’s Vanessa in 2004. Of mixed Maori and Irish ancestry, Te Kanawa was raised by adoptive parents and achieved early success as a local pop singer before

training for operatic roles at St. Mary’s College Auckland and the London Opera Centre.

Her professional opera debut came at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1968. Three years later, in the summer of 1971, a breakthrough performance as Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro" at the Santa Fe Opera put her name on

international lips.

That production also boasted a stellar performance by then-newcomer and current Bay Area resident Frederica von Stade. The two legendary singers have remained close friends since.

Te Kanawa repeated her Figaro triumph that winter at London’s Covent Garden Opera, and with the San Francisco Opera the following year. For the three decades that followed, she became a familiar figure on the world’s opera stages, essaying definitive performances of some of the most popular lyric soprano roles of the genre. She was also active in the "popera" crossover wave of the ’80s and ’90s, recording CDs of standards by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and appearing in an opera-starry series of studio recordings of classic American musicals including "My Fair Lady," "South Pacific" and "West Side Story."

Dame Kiri continues to make occasional concert hall appearances like this weekend’s event, both for special occasions and in support of her eponymous foundation, which is "committed to assisting those young New Zealanders who have complete dedication to their art, with judicious mentoring, financial support and career assistance."

Soprano Ana James, conductor Kerry Jago and pianist Kirsten Simpson are among the promising musicians who have already benefited from the program.

Te Kanawa says she is passionate about her philanthropic role, concerned only that, even in retirement, there is not enough time to do all she has in mind.

"[The Foundation] has taken on its own life," she said. "There are endless singers and musicians coming forward and asking for help. There are not enough hours in the day for me to keep up, but I love every second of it."


Kiri Te Kanawa

Where: Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 29

Tickets: $35, $70 and $120

Contact: (415) 499-6800;

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Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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