Friday, February 02, 2007

Dame's perfect match

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's refusal to perform with John Farnham raises questions about which Australian artist would be a good match for her, writes IRFAN YUSUF.

Some 13 years ago, I was sitting in a practical legal skills class struggling to keep awake after a night of rather, er, unprofessional conduct. My lecturer was using what little wit he had left on how we, as future solicitors, should dress when entering one of Her Majesty's courts.

"When seeking audience of the court, legal practitioners are expected to dress appropriately. For male solicitors, dark suits and modest ties. For their female colleagues, dark suits possibly incorporating longish skirts and dark stockings. Barristers, frequently the main actors in courtroom drama, are often robed and wigged."

The way he described it, we may as well have been going to the opera. Except in this opera, the performers were blokes (and the odd sheila) in horsehair wigs and black gowns.

Still, most barristers I know have terrible singing voices. Certainly nothing like New Zealand's soprano sensation Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I'm sure the good Dame would insist her audience conform to courtly dress.

Which makes me wonder what was going through the minds of barristers, solicitors and judge involved in the rather nasty dispute concerning Dame Kiri's refusal to perform on stage together with ageing Aussie heart-throb John Farnham while women's underwear was being tossed in her general direction.

All this week, the Supreme Court of New South Wales has had to deal with the dispute, in which Leading Edge Events, an Australian concert promotions company, is suing Dame Kiri Te Kanawa for breach of contract and misleading conduct. Also being sued are Dame Kiri's company, her former agent Nick Grace and his company.

Apparently, the parties signed a deal whereby Dame Kiri was to sing with Farnham in three concerts being promoted as "Two Great Voices".

The Leading Edge wants compensation of $600,000 plus 25 per cent of the show's potential profits. That adds up to a cool $2 million. They claim to have spent $380,000 just promoting the show. Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported tickets "were selling strongly with corporations, who rushed to buy tables at the concerts for $9500 each".

So why would New Zealand's most prized voice not want to join the stage with the man us West Islanders call "Farnsey"?

The case may still be before the courts but it is already making international headlines. Dame Kiri's woes with Mr Whispering Jack have made the pages of such august publications as the International Herald Tribune ("underwear tossing was the deal breaker"), the New York Times ("underwear tossing roils soprano") and the West Australian ("Farnham-Kiri shows `would've sold out'").

Now, I must confess I'm not in any position to comment on Dame Kiri's decision. For one thing, I haven't had any recent experiences with women throwing underwear in my general direction – well, apart from some years back when mum was in a somewhat excited mood after seeing the state of my bedroom. Still, that was my own underwear.

And I'm not sure if I'd like Farnsey's female fans throwing their knickers in my direction. Farnham is now in his late 50s. Chances are that the undies I'd be dealing with would be of women my mother's age. No thanks, Farnsey. You can have 'em, mate.

Now, I can accept that perhaps John Farnham may not be quite Dame Kiri's cup of tea. He might be good enough for Melbourne's Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, but he's hardly the sort of stuff Prince Charles's weddings are made of. So is there any Aussie male vocalist Dame Kiri would be happy to join (provided, of course, no underwear changed hands)?

I used to work for a really cool solicitor whose name I'd pronounce as "Chrus" (he was originally from Dunedin). One day Chrus was reminiscing about seeing the first Midnight Oil concert as a student at Otago. From memory, the following noises reached my uncultured Aussie ears:

"Irf, I till yoh woot. Thet Petah Gerrut hez un amayzung style ov densung!"

Sadly for Chrus, Peter Garret is no longer kicking beer glasses at campus bars while pretending to get electrocuted. And anyway, I don't think Power and the Passion is the stuff operas are made of.

Or how about Jimmy Barnes? I can just see Dame Kiri doing the repeat-bowing dance with old Jim and screeching Working Class Man. And if that doesn't work out, she can always sing with real Australian singers. You know the type. Real Aussies. Like Neil Finn. I think It's Only Natural the re-formed Crowded House have their own soprano.

But seriously, my dear Kiwistani cousins. Who wouldn't pay $9500 to see Dame Kiri and Johnny Farnham usher in the Age of Reason? I mean, as if us Aussies could produce a singer of the Dame's talent. Well, apart from Dame Edna. I think I'll stop there.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney writer with no musical ability whatsoever. First published in The Press (Christchurch, NZ) on 2 February 2007.