Outstanding Māori Business Leaders Award 2009

In recognition of esteemed international achievements in opera and classical music, contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand identity and culture, and mentoring of young New Zealand singers and musicians.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in a beautiful pink suit jacket

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, ONZ, DBE, AC

Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s dominance through the times is testament to her talent and business acumen, and this award acknowledges her close association and promotion of Aotearoa New Zealand at an international level. Through her formidable drive, application and hard work she has become one of the greatest opera singers of modern times. 

Dame Kiri (Ngāti Maniapoto with Ngāti Porou affiliation), had the South Pacific conquered by the age of 20, having won all the major vocal prizes available in this part of the world. She went to London to study at its opera centre and, after her sensational debut in Figaro, gained legendary status almost overnight.

As one of the most famous sopranos in the world, Dame Kiri has performed in the leading opera houses of the world, Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera, to name a few. On the concert stage, her natural serenity and vocal beauty have joined with the world’s major orchestral ensembles, Chicago, Los Angeles, London and the Boston Symphonies. 

She was created a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1982 and has been conferred with honorary degrees from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Dundee, Durham, Nottingham, Sunderland, Warwick, Waikato, Chicago and Victoria, as well as the University of Auckland. She is also an honorary fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, and Wolfson College, Cambridge, and was invested with the Order of Australia in 1990. Dame Kiri is also an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and was awarded the prestigious Order of New Zealand in 1995. 

As well as recognising her artistic leadership as a Māori performer who followed the late great Inia te Wiata in achieving world status at the highest levels possible in opera and classical music, this award highlights Dame Kiri’s commitment to the development of young New Zealand singers and musicians through the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation. Established in 2004, this foundation offers mentoring, financial support and career assistance to the most talented and dedicated young New Zealand singers and musicians to help them succeed internationally. In Dame Kiri’s words, it is a foundation that continues to give her enormous personal satisfaction. Her fostering of young talent to global success in such a competitive environment is remarkable.

Dame Kiri’s career is seen to be the spiritual and metaphorical embodiment of a fully carved ancestral meeting house, which honours past, current and emergent masters.

Visit the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation website