World renowned soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa celebrated her 70th birthday on stage at London’s Royal Opera House on Thursday. Following her one-off performance in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, Dame Kiri was presented with a cake by recent Downton Abbey co-star Jim Carter, and treated to video tributes from Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and fellow Antipodean Dame Edna Everage, among others.
It’s “Dame Sarah Connolly” or “Dame Sarah,” never “Dame Connolly.” The titles Dame and Sir are not used with surnames alone. Even though I know this full well, I once addressed a DBE as “Dame [Surname].” Conversation moved on too quickly for me to correct myself and I have remained permanently embarrassed by the faux pas.
DBE stands for Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. It is the second highest rank (out of five) in the Order of the British Empire, a class of civil and military honours awarded in the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth to recognize contributions in various fields including the arts. DBE is correctly written after someone’s name (as in Dame Sarah Connolly DBE CBE), not before. Sarah Connolly was previously awarded the third highest honour in the order, CBE.
The male equivalent of the DBE is KBE (Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), but most of the “Sirs” in classical music are Knights Bachelor, a completely different class of honour available only to men. For example, the opera singers Sir Thomas Allen, Sir John Tomlinson, and Sir Willard White have been thus recognized. Since women cannot be knighted, a woman who is chosen for very high recognition in her field is usually bumped up to the DBE, which ranks above a Knight Bachelor in precedence.
Other living opera singers that I can think of who have been awarded the DBE include Dame Janet Baker, Dame Josephine Barstow, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Dame Emma Kirkby, Dame Felicity Lott, Dame Malvina Major, Dame Felicity Palmer, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. An honorary DBE has been awarded to Ann Murray; because she is an Irish citizen, she does not get addressed by the title of Dame.
Dame Kiri Janette Te KanawaONZDBEAC (pronounced /ˌkɪritɨˈkɑːnəwə/; born 6 March 1944) is a New Zealand soprano who has had a highly successful international opera career since 1968. Acclaimed as one of the most beloved sopranos in both the United Kingdom and the United States she possesses a warm full lyric soprano voice, singing a wide array of works in multiple languages from the 17th to the 20th centuries. She is particularly associated with the works of Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Handel and Puccini.