Before she became an internationally celebrated opera star, Kiri Te Kanawa struggled to earn money pay for her singing lessons. She worked as a telephone operator and performed at weddings and in night clubs to save the money she needed to to travel from New Zealand to London. From those hardscrabble beginnings, she rose to dazzle critics and audiences alike with her performances of the classic operatic works by legendary composers such as Mozart, Strauss, and Verdi.
She made her debut at Covent Garden in 1970, but it was a last-minute substitution in 1974, as an understudy for the role of Desdemona in Verdi's Otello at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, which propelled her into opera's exclusive legion of greats when she was barely 30 years of age.
Her lush and lyrical soprano so entranced England's royal family that she was personally invited to perform at the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Lady Diana -- before a live television audience of some 600 million -- and later for Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee. She was also honored as a Dame Commander of the British Empire by the Queen. Having made her mark in performances across the globe, Te Kanawa, a deeply patriotic New Zealander with a strong Maori heritage, is now helping to mentor other talented young New Zealand singers and musicians through her Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation.