To mark the 80th birthday of Kiri Te Kanawa on 6th March 2024, Decca Classics is celebrating one of this era’s most widely acclaimed opera singers and recitalists with a box set featuring her complete recital recordings for Decca and Philips, out on June 7 and perfectly complemented with excerpts from the large number of complete recordings of sacred music and opera she made for these labels as well as Deutsche Grammophon.

Kiri Te Kanawa possessed one of the most beautiful of all lyric soprano voices. In 2010, she received the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. An interpreter of distinction in both Mozart and Richard Strauss, her operatic vocabulary stretched to the verismo of Puccini and Verdi, the great operas of Richard Strauss, and back through Johann Strauss II, as well as a star-studded recording of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.

Audiences attending the 1971 Covent Garden production of Wagner’s Parsifal went away with an abiding memory. Among the bevy of Flower Maidens, a single voice shone – the young New Zealand-born Kiri Te Kanawa, who, in her homeland had been trained by a nun, Sister Mary Leo. Arriving in London on her 22nd birthday in 1966, she studied at the London Opera Centre. Singing roles both small and large at the Opera Centre’s own productions, she began to attract press attention.

Other than the Parsifal production, her performance in the Countess in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro that same December, again for Covent Garden, proved to be a turning point in her career. Desmond Shawe-Taylor spoke of Te Kanawa’s “stream of pure radaiant ample tone”, and Andrew Porter set the seal in the Financial Times writing of “such a Countess Almaviva as I have never heard before, not at Covent Garden, nor in Salzburg or Vienna, at once young, full-throated, a singer of great accomplishment and a vivid character”.

It was perhaps this moment that set the scene for the soprano’s Mozartian future, and as witnessed on this celebratory anthology, Mozart plays a key role through operatic and concert arias as well as sacred music. Together with Mozart, her twin speciality, the music of Richard Strauss, is represented by the altar of all Romantic Lieder, Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs in which Georg Solti conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker, and then partners the soprano at the piano for a range of his other lieder. The set also presents music from Strauss’s operas Arabella and Capriccio.

As an interpreter of song, Kiri Te Kanawa was to record one of Decca’s first published digital recordings, Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, the creaminess of her sound almost suggesting that these songs were written for her. With pianist Roger Vignoles she offers a recital of music from Purcell to Obradors.

Taking in three sacred music miscellanies – with the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and a third offering excerpts from sacred music recordings she made over her career (St. Matthew Passion, Messiah, the Requiems of Fauré and Brahms), this anthology extends to the lighter side of Dame Kiri’s repertoire with collaborators Nelson Riddle and André Previn, and ends with a celebration of Christmas.