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Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

“It’s not goodbye, and I’m not retiring,” says Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, “but it is farewell as I probably won’t be performing in Schenectady again.” It’s an unsentimental sentiment she has noted while criss-crossing this country and Canada in a series of song recitals performed in halls both familiar and new.

“I started in Vancouver on Sept. 14,” she says in an unsurprisingly mellifluous voice, speaking by phone from Manhattan, “and after this it’s back to England for a variety of different projects.” Her local stop will be at Proctor’s Theatre on Saturday, where she and pianist Warren Jones will present a program of songs by Mozart, Strauss, Duparc and others, including works by Benjamin Britten and Jake Heggie.

This is Te Kanawa’s first appearance in the Capital Region, making it a genuinely rare opportunity to see (and hear) one of the world’s most acclaimed singers, whose skill and versatility have taken her to the world’s leading opera houses in the leading lyric soprano roles.

She shot to fame in 1971 with a Covent Garden Marriage of Figaro; but it was a small-screen moment, a televised performance that went out to half a billion viewers at the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, that made her the world’s most recognizable opera singer.

Three of her favorite operas are by Richard Strauss, so it’s no surprise to see a quintet of Strauss songs on the program. “I’ve always loved his music,” she says, “which I was introduced to very early on. I didn’t have that early exposure to Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, so I tend to go straight to Strauss in my recitals.”

Opening the program is a brief, lighthearted cantata by Mozart, written in the last year of his life, while he was writing The Magic Flute. Plagued by mental illness, the late-romantic Henri Duparc stopped composing when he was in his 30s and destroyed much of what he’d written; 16 gemlike songs are among the survivors, three of which close the first half of the recital.

Among the second-half highlights is Jake Heggie’s just-written “Final Monologue,” with a text adapted by Terrence McNally from his play Master Class. Although composed for a mezzo-soprano, Heggie adapted the work for Dame Kiri to sing on the current tour, a gesture recognizing the long friendship between singer and composer. “I first met him years ago in San Francisco,” she says merrily, “when he was turning pages at the opera.”

Songs by Poulenc, Copland, Wolf-Ferrari and Puccini will complete a program she also presented to great acclaim at Carnegie Hall two weeks ago. And time in New York also has given her the chance to pursue another great passion: discovering and cultivating young singers, which is the mission of the three-year-old foundation that bears her name. The foundation helps singers from her native New Zealand, but she hopes that the spirit of her effort will be contagious. “Opera is organic, and we have to keep these things alive. When you’re watching something alongside young people, you’re watching it through fresh and glorious eyes, and then they look to you for verification. That’s a wonderful experience for both of you.”

Kiri Te Kanawa will perform Saturday (Oct. 27) at 8 PM at Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). Tickets are $40-$70. For reservations and info, call 346-6204.

—B.A. Nilsson

Queen Latifah

All hail the queen: Her majesty Latifah will arrive tomorrow evening with her 13-piece big band for a “swinging evening” at the Troy Music Hall. Her new album, Trav’lin’ Light, is an appealing collection that runs the gamut from jazz standards to pop hits (10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”) to Jobim (“Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”). The selection is eclectic, but the smooth arrangements and Latifah’s engaging voice hold it together.

The Oscar-nominated singer-actress has come a long way from her first local show, at Albany’s Palace in 1990 with Digital Underground and 3rd Bass. Which we mention, well, because we remember it fondly. (C’mon, everybody: “ooh-ooh, ladies first, ladies first!”)

Queen Latifah will perform tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 26) at 8 PM at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (2nd and State streets, Troy). Tickets are $79 and $85. For reservations and info, call 273-0038.

Albany Symphony Orchestra

The theme of this Albany Symphony concert is “A Chinese Romeo and Juliet,” and the featured work is Chen and He’s Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Erhu and Orchestra. Before you can ask, “what is an erhu?”, the ASO supplies an answer: It’s the “Chinese ancestor of the violin.” Erhu virtuoso Betti Xiang (pictured) will be the featured soloist. “Butterfly lovers” refers to a folk tale in which a couple, split by family differences, “die of heartbreak and are turned into butterflies.”

Also on the program are two other works related to romantic woe, Wagner’s Overture from Tannhäuser and crazy Berlioz’ wonderful Symphony Fantastique.

The ASO will perform Saturday (Oct. 27) at 6:30 PM at the Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave., Albany). Tickets are $23-$46. For reservations and info, call the Palace box office at 465-4663.


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