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NZ soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa honoured in Australia, says career longevity is greatest success

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CANBERRA, Australia - New Zealand soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, touring Australia to celebrate her 70th birthday, makes a rule of never discussing retirement.

In keeping with the philosophy she says she borrowed from her own theatric hero, Dame Judi Dench, Te Kanawa won't rule out returning to Australia for an 80th or even 90th birthday tour.

"You never know," she told The Associated Press on Thursday at a Parliament House reception where she was a guest of House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, an opera fan.

"Never say never, but 90th — they'd be wheeling me in in a chair," she quipped.

Te Kanawa later bowed to the House of Representatives to the applause of Australian lawmakers, an experience she humbly described as "pretty special."

She no longer performs in operas, shifting her focus to recitals and concerts. Her work schedule is less hectic than it has been, but she continues globe-trotting at a frenetic pace.

Her current 11-concert tour will end in her native New Zealand in early June. She then flies to London to learn new music to premiere at Chicago's Martin Theater on Aug. 12 as part of the Ravinia Festival.

She also visits Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Finland before the end of the year.

"It's enough; it's as much as I want to do," Te Kanawa said of her work commitments.

"I'm certainly easing down, that's for sure, but there's so much more to be done," she added.

She cherishes as a career highlight singing as a soloist at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London in 1981, when she found her largest audience. She reached a new audience when she guest starred as Australian diva Dame Nellie Melba in an episode of the television series "Downton Abbey" last year.

A winner of the British Recording Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award, she established the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation a decade ago to help young New Zealand singers find international success.

But she regards the longevity of her career as her greatest success.

"I think living and being healthy and doing all the things I want to do, I think that's a highlight in itself," she said.

"You talk to a lot of 70- year-olds and they're not well. I'm very healthy and well," she added.

She puts her good health down to "a lot of hard work."

But she is also making the most of more leisure time.

"I've wanted to get a dog for 40 years; now I've got three of them and they're adorable," she said.

She also plans to buy a large campervan and tour her homeland.

"I want to see my New Zealand," she said. "I've never really seen New Zealand, so I want to tour it up and down."

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