8 Jan 2016

You can't have it all - Dame Kiri

1:23 pm on 8 January 2016

Her career may have lasted 50 years but Dame Kiri Te Kanawa says today's opera hopefuls face a much harder industry.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Photo: AFP

The opera singer will next week be teaching 22 students, selected on merit from throughout the country, at the New Zealand Opera School in Whanganui.

Dame Kiri told Summer Noelle the class came about by pure accident.

"People like me to come along and have a little listen, and so do I, but suddenly it's turned into a bit more of a masterclass.

"... helping the students, seeing them come through the traps that I went through. It's a very exciting time for me watching them."

Dame Kiri said it was much harder for students now than when she started out.

Jobs were limited and opera houses were very particular.

"It's not even good quality, it's not even excellent quality, it's called exceptional quality. It has to be exceptional.

"You've got to be totally original, individual, use your own head, have your own brain in the song and that's what makes the difference between being a good singer, and being an exceptional singer."

Dame Kiri said it was particularly hard being a soprano.

"The soprano voices, at this point, they're not coming through. They're there, but they're just not quite good enough. They're not exceptional, in my judgement."

The next generation needed to understand a number of things about the world of opera, she said.

"You have to have strength, you have to have a business mind, you've got to be able to cope with everything.

"If you've got a husband or a wife, you've got children, you've got schooling, you've got separation...being away for weeks and and weeks and months and months ... you come home and you've got to start being a wife or a father again.

"Someone said to me 'can I have it all?' and I said 'no you can't. So don't expect it all and then basically you can have most of it'.

"I sort of concentrated so much on my career that I think sometimes... my children missed out. They enjoy a life because of it, I certainly didn't neglect them in that the way that I went to parties or anything... all I did was my career and my family."

Dame Kiri said she retained a strong connection to New Zealand, despite all her travels, and spoke to people in New Zealand every day.

Being back in the country, she was often stopped on the street for selfies.

"The trouble is... it doesn't mean anything.

"I always thing that selfies should be with someone you like and you know."

Dame Kiri will also hold a public "in conversation" event at Wanganui Collegiate on 15 January.