New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa can boast a career several decades long; among the most beloved voices of the 70s, 80s and 90s, she has performed in the most prestigious theatres and worked with the greatest conductors.
The general public immediately links her with one aria, 'O mio babbino caro' by Puccini, part of the soundtrack of the Merchant Ivory film 'A Room with a View'. At the recent Verbier Festival in the Swiss Alps, a renowned classical music event where today's top artists cross paths with tomorrow's stars, Dame Kiri gave an enthusiastically received concert as well as a series of masterclasses. Her main interest today is helping young singers, training them, possibly making them stars of the future, an aim she also pursues through her own foundation.
"I just love working with young people, it's inspiring, they're wonderful, and they're more than grateful. They're so hungry to learn, you don't have to feed them very much, they just learn… and that's inspiring as well," she says.
Kiri Te Kanawa invited her young pupils to join her at the concert, and perform Così fan tutte's famous sextet.
A Fest'off goes on in Verbier simultaneously with the more classical events.
Whilst breath management is one of the pillars of Dame Kiri's teaching, she does not conceal the dark side of fame from the up-and-coming artists. "You sacrifice a lot for the career. You miss the family life, about everything there's to do with bonding and family life. You think you've got it all, but you don't. You cannot have it all. If you want to flip a coin you have to choose: family life or career – which one?" she warns.
"Sometimes, when I get a young student and we've been bringing them through and suddenly they're up there on the stage on their own and they're doing what they should be doing, that's when the satisfying moments come and your heart just really warms towards them and you think 'We've been working hard all together and it's working', and that's a great thrill for me. But eventually there will be time when I will want to go and sit under a palm-tree, and not do it anymore, but not just yet!" she smiles.
Kiri Te Kanawa is a generous, honest artist, and she does not take herself too seriously, which means her masterclasses are more than just being about music.