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Kiri Te Kanawa bids adieu to O.C.

Special to The Times

Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa gave what was billed as her Orange County farewell recital Tuesday at a sold-out Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and accompanied by a sensitively attuned Julian Reynolds, she offered art songs slightly peppered by a rare Mozart cantata (“Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt,” K. 619) and one opera aria (“O mio babbino caro,” from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi”).

What the 21-piece recital lacked in drama -- “O mio,” the last of two encores, was far and away the most vibrant and passionately rendered of the entire evening -- it more than made up for with Te Kanawa’s warmth and sincerity. Appearing regal yet without pomposity, the New Zealand native seemed dignified yet accessible.

She almost never acted out her songs, relying on her vocal skills to convey each text’s meaning. The sole exception was during the first encore, Ginastera’s “Canción al árbol del olvido” (Song of the Tree of Forgetfulness), when she executed playful, vamp-like shoulder gyrations. For the rest, her pure tone, with its superbly controlled soft upper register, alone enriched the German, French, Italian and English selections.

The penultimate of Mozart’s five cantatas, none of them well known, K. 619 -- “You who revere the Creator of the Boundless Universe” -- set the tone, with Te Kanawa offering just enough contrast between the sections of this minor and late (1791) effort by the composer.

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Her group of five Richard Strauss lieder showed Te Kanawa’s keen perception and ability to draw all the tenderness from a text with consummate ease. She and Reynolds utilized silence in “Morgen!” (Tomorrow!) just as effectively as they did the music, which Te Kanawa rendered most exquisitely in the song’s cantilena.

Her three Duparc mélodies (only 17 survive) proved an exercise in vocal tone-painting, while three by Poulenc, which opened the second half, enchantingly gave her an opportunity to expand her vocal acting talents. She imbued Poulenc’s “Hôtel” with more than a hint of the smoky chanteuse in this song about a woman who wants to smoke.

Among the English-language songs, the best was “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?,” which allowed Te Kanawa to amp up her generally gentle volume a few notches. This third of Copland’s Emily Dickinson Songs includes an Anna Russell-like recurring line -- “Did I sing too loud?” -- that Te Kanawa delivered to fine comic effect.

Te Kanawa encouraged Reynolds, who flawlessly supported her all night, to join her in the final words of Puccini’s “Sole e amore” (Sun and Love), prompting someone in the audience to shout, “More!” -- to which Reynolds shook his head good-naturedly.

More is also what the audience wanted to hear from Te Kanawa. She will be missed.


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