Opera star helps singers to become 'export-ready' for their careers

The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation has launched a new development programme that includes personal and business skills. With special feature audio.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa says business and management skills provide the essential edge for talented young singers aiming to succeed in the competitive world of international opera. 

Her Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation has unveiled a new programme to help six young New Zealand singers become “export-ready” as they prepare for international careers.

Foundation spokesman Stephen Dee, a former manager of Auckland Opera, says too many singers were going overseas and failing at building their careers.

"They were arriving in London and New York and not skilled up enough to compete with their peers and were falling by the wayside, even though they had fantastic voices" he says.

"Young singers used to be on salaries for two or three years while being nurtured along but that doesn't happen any more. They are now all freelancers and have to operate in a tough world as people running their own businesses.

"You cannot get a career going in opera if you just have a pretty voice. You have to have so much more and know how to conduct yourself as well."

The first wave of six rising young singers has been selected for the five high-impact modules of “The Kiri Programme,” which begins at the end of this month. 

The modules last from three to seven days and will be delivered in Auckland. Each personalised and mentored individual programme will involve prominent international and local teachers and coaches, covering a range of artistic and business disciplines.

The programme director is Kathryn Harries, director of the National Opera Studio in London.

After eight years of research and planning, Dame Kiri says it was an 112-page report by her foundation that identified the gaps in skill sets of young singers heading overseas to further their training, engage in fiercely competitive auditions and ultimately to gain performance contracts.

“They have to be more resilient, both physically and psychologically, than in the past and they have to be assured communicators," she says.

"They have to develop competency in management, budgeting, marketing, planning and negotiating. They need legal, contract and presentation skills, along with flexibility, and resourcefulness, not to mention movement and acting skills.”

Other support for young singers
Dame Kiri, who is based outside London, already devotes much of her life to the development of New Zealand singers, with some weekend classes and mentoring in her own home and a range of funding and support programmes.

These include the Kiri Te Kanawa Covers Award, which places singers on the Covent Garden stage to walk in the shoes of great artists as they “cover” them. 

The inaugural recipient was Phillip Rhodes, who covered the main baritone role in Lucia di Lammermoor

“I attended the opening night and Phillip was in the box with me and he kept saying ‘Kiri, I have to pinch myself. I am at Covent Garden’. It is always a singer’s dream to be at the most wonderful opera house in the world,” she says.

The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation also sponsors masterclasses for the high profile Lexus Song Quest and a vocal faculty at the New Zealand Opera School, which takes place every summer on the campus of Wanganui Collegiate.

Dame Kiri attended last year and took a masterclass for students.

“This is bold and potentially ground-breaking,” Dame Kiri says of her latest initiative, “and if it is to succeed on all fronts, it will require generous partners with vision and commitment to making a difference."

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