A blessing ceremony this morning and a star-studded gala concert tomorrow officially launch the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, previously known as the ASB Theatre, in Auckland’s Aotea Centre.
The renaming recognised the famous New Zealand soprano who was New Zealand’s first Grammy Award winner and has graced the stages of some of the biggest concert halls around the globe.
At the ceremony this morning Dame Kiri said it was something she had never expected.
"It's extraordinary to have something like this, it's quite breathtaking," she said.
"It's a great honour."
Dame Kiri has described the renaming as a great acknowledgment of the art form she had dedicated her life to.
“How very wonderful, it is… a tribute to music, classical music and performing arts. 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.”
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 idea for the name 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.
The deputy chair of the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, Diana Fenwick, said they worked on the idea for two years before taking the request to current Aotea Centre sponsors ASB who embraced it.
“It’s an accolade which is long deserved,” she said. “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 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.”