A few words about Kiri. Not a review — been there, done that. No, I just wanted to say how truly lovely it was to see our Kiri in the flesh. It was my first time. Which seems funny, because growing up in New Zealand, she was so omnipresent and so iconic that I've tended to forget that I've only ever seen her on screens and in photos. I don't know what it's like with children now, but when I was at primary school, everybody knew who Kiri was. No surname necessary. I heard opera at home, so I knew a few other sopranos too, but everybody knew Kiri. And I still think that if you stopped a New Zealander at random on the street and said "Name a famous opera singer", they'd be almost as likely to say Kiri as Pavarotti. (Or Malvina.)
So there she was, and the glossy photos for once don't lie: she's just as beautiful in person. I found her enchanting. The concert wasn't flawless, but it didn't especially need to be. She just had to be Kiri, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening in her company. And she was so warm, so personable, so Kiri and, dare I say it, such a New Zealander, that I found it harder than ever to believe I'd never seen her in person before. I knew she was charming, but it still surprised me how engagingly she spoke when she took the microphone; much better than her conductor, Brian Castles-Onion, whose two little speeches were rather, well, awkward.
You can read my review (or somebody else's) for details of the program and so on. There were audibility issues but I suspect the basic beauty of that voice is pretty much indestructible, and it has held up better than those of some of her contemporaries: those floaty high notes in particular have lost none of their power to transport. Watching and listening to her, you realise (without necessarily coming any closer to articulating it) what it is that distinguishes a great artist (and a superstar) from the rest. She just is. You can't trace it to one element or another or to anything tangible or technical. She just is.
And she's also ours. Mine. New Zealand's. Which brings me full circle. At one level, I enjoyed this concert as I might any other gala by a very famous and talented soprano whom I love without every having worshipped as such. But it touched me more deeply than that too, because she is, for lack of a better term, an essential part of my own cultural heritage and upbringing. I don't remember a time when I didn't know Kiri, and, unlike the other sopranos of my childhood, I shared this one with my whole generation and with my country.
It's not often I get soppy and patriotic. But when Kiri sang an unaccompanied "Pokarekare Ana" as her final encore, I confess I welled up with tears and pride. Not just because it was so perfectly beautiful — which it was — but because it seemed somehow to belong to me. I've known the song as long as I've known Kiri, and I've been hearing her sing it for almost as long. It was already an affectionate and intimate concert, but that moment outdid all the rest and just went straight to my heart. She was our Kiri, my Kiri, and I loved her for it.