Auckland’s Aotea Centre ASB Theatre will soon be called Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre.
The famous New Zealand soprano was New Zealand’s first Grammy Award winner and has graced the stages of some of the biggest concert halls around the globe.
Dame Kiri officially opened the Aotea Centre in September 1990, unveiling a 1.6m bronze sculpture of herself by artist Terry Stringer that is still in place today.
The facility’s new name will be launched on 20 November with a gala concert featuring Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and several rising opera stars.
The idea for the change started with the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, which supports the next generation of opera singers. The name change is to acknowledge the work Dame Kiri has done on the world stage and to mark her 75th birthday.
Dame Kiri couldn’t believe it when the name change was first mentioned but says it’s a great acknowledgment of the art form she’s dedicated her life to. “How very wonderful, it is… a tribute to music, classical music and performing arts. Wonderful,” she says.
“I think it will be a very thrilling moment when I walk in there… and suddenly it’s got my name on the front there. But it’s not about me. It’s about music. It’s about what we’ve all worked for so much. The Foundation, all the people in NZ who have promoted young singers, all the people who have established small festivals. Everyone’s helped. It’s just amazing.”
The deputy chair of the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, Diana Fenwick, says they worked on the name change for two years before taking the request to current Aotea Centre sponsors ASB who embraced the idea.
“It’s an accolade which is long deserved,” she says. “If you look around the world there are other theatres; the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, the Lincoln Center where you’ve got the Vivian Beaumont Theater and in London… The Olivier Theatre. It’s not uncommon to have theatres named after people who have made an immense contribution to the genre that they have been involved with.”
New Zealand Opera’s General Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess says to have a theatre named after a famed opera singer means a lot for the art form. “Grand theatre. Grand gesture. Grand Dame,” he says. “It sends a signal that the arts are important and a signal that one particular person’s career is recognised and celebrated.”
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Director of Artistic Planning Ronan Tighe says it’s a great honour to be performing for Dame Kiri at the gala concert.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity for us… to pay tribute to one of the great sopranos of the world and one of New Zealand’s cultural ambassadors,” he says. “It’s going to be a really good concert. We’ve got a great programme of operatic works and choruses. Giordano Bellincampi is conducting, and we’ve got three magnificent soloists. It’s going to be a beautiful evening.”
The full line-up of performers for the gala will be announced in early September.
A feature interview with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will air during Sunday Mornings with Jim Mora this week on RNZ National.