Kiri and Susan–Kirioke v Karaoke

May 23, 2010

 “Let’s get off that subject, move on. I’m doing something classical, not whizz-bang. Whizz-bang disappears. It goes ‘whizz’ and then ‘bang’.” Kiri Te Kanawa

Boyle’s law states that for a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional.

Both the temperature and the volume started to rise during the recent Radio Times interview with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa*. The Kiwi-born Kiri was quizzed about Scottish-born Susan Boyle’s talent quest version of I Dreamed A Dream* from Les Misérables, which she also sings.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so misérable but it is easy to understand her chagrin as a consummate, trained professional being mentioned in the same breath as a self-taught amateur.

It was as if the Queen-at least HRH played by Helen Mirren-had been asked to comment on the royal qualities of Betty Driver as the nonagenarian barmaid Betty Williams in Coronation Street.

Dame Kiri, who is holding a competition on British station Radio 2 with qualified judges to discover new operatic talent, said that she loathed the frenzy which surrounds popular reality TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent.

The show’s producers are certainly adept at creating a viewing feeding frenzy. The 2009 Susan Boyle item* was carefully stage managed down to the last bucket of mock astonishment from the stage crew and judges and cleverly manipulated and amplified in both the old and new media*. 

Different uploads of the same item have had a total of well over 150,000,000 views on YouTube so far and climbing, compared with 204,104 views for the Te Kanawa rendition*.

 Of course, the two have to be seen through quite different lenses-the professional and the amateur. Kiri developed her remarkable talents with the help of voice training by Sister Mary Leo.  She has built up a wide ranging and multilingual performance repertoire from the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi, George Frideric Handel and Giacomo Puccini.

 Susan’s commendable DIY amateur efforts, with a hair brush standing in for a mike and her raw talent and passion for singing, have been on a different trajectory  outside the discipline of the opera or show stage, but many obviously enjoy the heart-warming  results, albeit in small doses.

 Kiri apparently doesn’t think much of Hayley Westenra either-nor of Andrea Bocelli* At an earlier interview she didn’t quite label the popular blind tenor Bantam of the Opera but she came pretty close.

Before she was well known and not long after she had been an occasional busker at the Arts Centre in Christchurch Hayley sang one of Andrea’s well-known recordings at our SmartNet 2000 event in Christchurch. This was more kiwioke than karoeke, with Hayley singing to a soundtrack, but it was a knock out, especially in the context within which it was sung.

 The theme song of the five annual two-day SmartNet workshops and Working SmartNet expos, held in the Christchurch  Convention Centre between 1997 and 2001, was the theme from “2001 A Space Odyssey” -Thus Spake Zarathustra. It played behind  the opening video sequence and theme for the year. In 2000, as the theme finished and before the official opening began, MC Jim Hopkins jumped off the stage, to be followed by the video cameras in the same kind of premeditated spontaneity as in the Susan Boyle item.

Jim then interviewed some young students who were helping to run SmartNet about their career plans after they finished university.  Virtually all of them talked about heading of overseas. Jim’s premeditated punchline, as Hayley Westenra came out from the wings singing the number made popular by Bocelli, was “if New Zealand companies don’t become more innovative, pick up on the skills of new graduates and use new technology, it will be Time to Say Goodbye to too many of our young people.”

 Since then, the export of young and growing poppies has continued apace with just a small dent in the last two years because of the global recession.

 A decade later Kiri and Susan are level pegging in Stuff’s Who would win in a fight? poll. It is absolutely great for amateurs to suddenly be given a ready made live, television and on-line audience  and maybe to even develop a new career of sorts. Good luck to them, but no one would seriously imagine that a democratic vote is an arbiter of musical standards.

Meanwhile, despite media reports to the contrary, Dame Kiri is not retiring. As the Radio Times interview demonstrated she’s neither the shy nor the retiring type and at age 66 she still has a lot to offer both via her own concert if not opera performances and via her work to nurture genuine new operatic talent.

It’s not time to say goodbye yet.

  #Lyall Lukey 23 May 2010


Te Kanawa blasts Susan Boyle |  

Video Clips:

Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009  93,102,839 views

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – “I Dreamed a Dream” – “Les Misérable …  204,104 views Hayley Westenra and Andrea Bocelli 7,483,066 views  Time to say goodbye  Hayley Westenra,  SmartNet 2000  2009 blog post  Lift off spoke Zarathustra

Talent Quest

April 20, 2009

  “To see things in the seedthat is genius.”  Lao-Tzu

 In the days before the story broke in the old media last Thursday you too may have seen on YouTube Susan Boyle wowing judges with her performance in Round 1 of the 2009 Britain’s Got Talent She sang “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables and by the end of it looked anything but.  

 The 47 Year old Scot probably thinks she’s still dreaming. When the story broke on TV 7 million had already viewed the video on-line, with initially skeptical judges and a cynical audience rising to their feet to applaud her enthralling debut. Two days later the on-line viewing audience was 17 million. Today it was 24 million.

 If you missed it-and it would be difficult, because television and radio had a field day over the next few days- check what the viewing number is now-and add one

 Of course, it is a great story- heart warming with great singing. Susan is unmarried, in fact, she disclosed, she had never been romantically kissed, and had given up her early singing plans to look after her parents. Her non-diva demeanour and apparently inflated pre-performance ambition to sing like Elaine Paige were forgotten from the moment she opened her mouth and sang like a bellbird. The transfixed audience acclaimed her performance from the first note in a way that couldn’t happen at Covent Garden.

The whole thing, of course, was very well stage-managed. The live audience, and possibly the judges, would have had no prior knowledge of her prowess but obviously the show’s producers knew the talent they had on their hands from the earlier auditions. The video cameras off and on stage were carefully directed to maximise the impact of comments and gestures before, during and after her rendition for what became edited into the 7 minute clip posted on YouTube. This was all a clever promotion for the show’s new season and will boost ratings wonderfully for the following rounds.

But why, despite the carefully orchestrated hoopla, does the episode still resonate with us?  Is it because we all secretly nurture or smother a talent which has not seen the light of day because of a lack of confidence or lack of commitment?

 As Barbara Kendall, New Zealand Olympic windsurfing Gold Medallist says  “Talent only takes you so far. You need planning, passion and 100% commitment to turn your dreams into reality.”            

Some people are highly talented, but not motivated. Others are highly motivated, but not talented.  Talent quest shows are littered with the slain corpses of aspiring celebrities, who had confidence by the bucket load but talent by the thimbleful.

Some children with genius potential are not identified as such at school.  They don’t fit into conformist education patterns and don’t necessarily demonstrate classroom competency at an above average level in some subjects. Their minds are literally elsewhere. They underachieve on what is being tested and have no real opportunity to prove their capabilities in their areas of talent.

Others are actively discouraged: A Munich schoolmaster told 10 years old Albert Einstein in 1889 “You will never amount to very much.”  Within 16 years he had formulated the special theory of relativity.

About the same time fellow Nobel prizewinner Ernest Rutherford, whose intellectual potential had been sparked in a sole teacher rural school in New Zealand, faced some post university challenges. In 1894 Rutherford was rejected for a teacher’s position at Christchurch Boys’ High School. It was enough to turn his mind to overseas academic research where he found his true vocation in collaborative research. The initial setback proved to be the waiting move at chess which open up new possibilities.

As Educationist Hazel Henderson has it: “Learning isn’t necessarily about curriculum in the schools. It’s about… really figuring out as early as you can in life what your passion is and what you want written on your tombstone. That leads you in a much more creative direction because you engage your entire energy.”

Facilitating this real talent quest is not just a job for teachers. We should all be on the lookout for people of all ages within our reach who have a talent to develop that we can detect in the seed and help nurture. The first step to competence is confidence: no matter what our own talents and skills, this is something we can all offer at the right time with the right perosn.

The reality show was the right time for Susan Boyle. Elaine Page has already suggested that the two join in a duet. That would really bring the  live house down and inflate YouTube’s viewing audience. 

In the meantime, perhaps Paul Potts, an earlier Britain’s Got Talent winner, could get together on stage with Susan and bring the pots to the boil.