Opera stars rubbish Katherine jibes
THE large-scale row which erupted following Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s dig at “opera fakes” like Katherine Jenkins took a new twist last night.
Representatives for the Neath-born mezzo soprano hit back at the New Zealand opera legend for saying they were “very surprised” at her stinging criticisms, especially after she shared a duet with Jenkins on one of her albums “for not a small fee”.
And opera stars like Lesley Garrett, as well as music critics and industry insiders, revealed their support for the likes of Jenkins, Hayley Westenra and Charlotte Church, who all came under attack.
The row erupted when 63-year-old Dame Kiri made it clear she would never share the limelight.
She said of popular classical singers, “They are all fake singers, they sing with a microphone.”
Last night a spokesman for 27-year-old Jenkins, who is currently in Hong Kong performing with opera legend Placido Domingo, said, “We are very surprised to hear this after Dame Kiri sang The Flower Duet with Katherine on her (Jenkins’s) Serenade album for not a small fee.
“Katherine sings with a microphone when she needs to. A mezzo soprano’s voice doesn’t develop until she’s in her early 30s. Katherine is looking forward to singing without a microphone in the future.”
International soprano Lesley Garrett, who recently performed in The Merry Widow with Welsh National Opera, last night came out in support of “crossover” classical artists like Jenkins.
She said, “Appreciating opera is a bit like appreciating a fine wine, sometimes you have to start with something a little light and fruity and eventually you get to your big fat burgundy.”
She said it was “patronising” to the audience to tell them who they should or shouldn’t be listening to.
“At least they (the public) are getting started and beginning to hear music that they otherwise wouldn’t have heard.”
Dame Kiri’s fellow New Zealander, 20-year-old Westenra, who last year performed at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, came in for particular criticism when she said, “Have you heard Hayley? She’s not in my world. She has never been in it at all.”
Gray Bartlett, who put Westenra on the musical map, rubbished the criticism, pointing to the millions of CDs Westenra had sold.
He said, “I can tell you now, Kiri and Pavarotti and those international singers, if it wasn’t for their compilation CDs they’d be lucky to sell in the hundreds. Now that’s the truth.”
He added that he felt Dame Kiri, who started out as a pop singer and shot to global fame after singing at the Prince of Wales’ wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, could be a little envious of the younger singers’ success.
“It’s this whole opera thing, and that holier-than-thou attitude. It (opera) still retains a snob factor.”
Antonia Couling, deputy editor of industry magazine Opera Now, said Dame Kiri’s comments were “rather short-sighted”.
She said, “I think it was Katherine Jenkins herself who said she would not describe herself as an opera star, but hoped that one day she would be able to say that.
“These singers can be classed as classical because they sing in a classical manner and not a pop manner.
“It is a really complicated issue. Anything that brings classical music to a wider audience is a good thing.
“Most singers do not develop opera voices until they are in their 30s.
“Katherine Jenkins has said herself she is waiting for her voice to develop.
“There is nothing wrong with people who generate a lot of interest in classical and opera singing – like the Three Tenors for example.
“People looked down their noses at them because they were popular, but there is nothing wrong with being popular.”
Western Mail opera critic Mike Smith added, “Dame Kiri has enjoyed a long and distinguished career but does not always show great public relations skills.
“Katherine has always stressed she is a singer who sings some opera arias and is not an opera singer.
“Both Katherine and Hayley are highly successful singers and in the market they operate are probably far better known than Dame Kiri.”
Mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins’s career
Style: Glamorous girl-next-door
Background: After starting out as a church singer and twice winning twice BBC Radio 2’s Welsh Choirgirl of the Year contest, Jenkins was destined to be a singer. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music and worked as a freelance singing teacher before she was snapped up by Universal in 2004 and offered a six-album £1m record deal. Since then she’s released a string of chart-topping albums and performed all over the world. One of her favourite jobs has been acting as the “Welsh rugby mascot” and performing the National Anthem at home games. She’s also become the new Forces’ Sweetheart with regular trips to Iraq to entertain the troops. Last year she launched her first festival at Margam Park, Port Talbot to say “thank you” to her Welsh fans for their loyal support.
Career highs: Where do you start? Although she’s been in the spotlight for less than four years, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List she’s amassed a £6m fortune through her concerts, sponsorship deals and record sales. Her five albums have all topped the UK classical album chart. She recently teamed up with former prima ballerina Darcey Bussell for a new stage show Viva, La Diva, which has proved a sell-out.
Career lows: Apart from not being invited to sing the National Anthem before Wales’ Six Nations matches this year her career is on the up and up.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – a soprano
From: Gisborne, New Zealand
Style: One of the “grande dames” of the opera world.
Background: The adopted daughter of an Irish mother and Maori father started her career as a pop star. She formally trained in operatic singing and started as a mezzo-soprano, but later developed into a soprano. At 22, she enrolled at the London Opera Centre and went on to become a junior principal at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden where she performed in operas including Parsifal and The Marriage of Figaro. Since then, she has performed with opera companies all over the world and she has particular affinity with the heroines of Richard Strauss. She retired from the opera stage in 2004 but still appears at concert halls. She has performed on many occasions in Wales and in 2006 Welsh composer Karl Jenkins arranged and conducted her album, Kiri Sings Karl. During the same year she recorded The Flower Duet with Katherine Jenkins for the Welsh mezzo soprano’s album Serenade.
Career highs: She was seen and heard around the world by an estimated 600 million people when she sang Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981. The following year she was made a dame.
Career lows: In a 2003 interview with the Melbourne-based Herald Sun newspaper she was critical of the high rate of welfare dependence among the Maori people, angering some of her compatriots. Te Kanawa was also sued for breach of contract after cancelling a concert last year with Australian singer John Farnham after learning that his fans sometimes threw their underwear on stage, which he would then proudly display.