The First Rolex Arts Testimonee, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

June 09, 2016

New Zealand sporano Kiri Te Kanawa became the first Rolex Arts Testimonee in 1976. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982 for her services to opera just a year after singing for Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the royal wedding. 

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (photo: Rolex/Ambroise Tézenas)
Te Kanawa began her career as a pop singer in New Zealand, enrolling as a student at London Opera Centre in 1966. Since then, she has appeared the most prestigious stages in the world like La Scala, Sydney Opera House and, of course, the Royal Opera House in London. She transitioned from playing royalty onstage to performing for royalty with much success.

Dame Kiri is best known for her riveting performances of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and Strauss. I've embedded a video below of her performing George Gershwin's 'Summertime' with the Royal Philharmonic in London in 1989.

In 2004, she created to Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to help foster young musical talent in her home country of New Zealand. “I had decided to leave money for a foundation when I died, then someone suggested it might work much better if I were still alive! The wonderful people at Rolex came along and helped me straight away.”


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