January 25, 1988 12:00 PM

Kiri Te Kanawa

Then again, opera stars singing popular music usually seem like epitomes of wretched excess—the musical equivalent of using a Concorde to fly from Chicago to Milwaukee. Kanawa is no exception. These 15 Gershwin tunes follow orchestrations used in the Broadway shows they were originally written for, but such Gershwin songs as The Man I Love and But Not for Me demand a variety of intimacy that Kanawa’s overwhelming soprano can’t get down to. Things seem almost comical on her version of Boy Wanted (why does this voice want a mere boy?), but Dame Kiri manages some intentional humor, too, on the playful By Strauss (“I’ll give no quarter for Kern or Cole Porter/ and Gershwin keeps pounding on tin…/ Oh give me the free and easy/ waltz that is Viennese-y…”). Then, too, Kanawa’s version of Summertime approaches the sublime, reaffirming the genius of a song that can be performed in this kind of operatic splendor as well as it is in Holiday’s gut-felt declaration in The Gershwin Collection. (Angel)

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