Case of flying underpants lands Kiri in court

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The opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa pulled out of a series of joint concerts with the Australian pop star John Farnham because she heard that fans threw their underwear at him, a court in Sydney heard yesterday.

An Australian concert promoter, Leading Edge Events, is suing Dame Kiri and her former manager, Nick Grace, for £237,000 for alleged breach of contract. She withdrew from performances scheduled to take place in Sydney and Melbourne in 2005.

The New South Wales Supreme Court heard that Dame Kiri had serious doubts about Farnham's live shows, which she regarded as "absolutely horrendous". She also expressed concerns that Farnham "was very talkative" on stage, said Richard Evans, a lawyer for Leading Edge.

Dame Kiri, a New Zealander, would have received a minimum of £80,000 for each of the three concerts, for which she and Farnham were billed as "two great voices".

Mr Evans told the court that Leading Edge had spent more than £100,000 in preparation for the concerts. The expenses included a helicopter that the company chartered for Dame Kiri in 2004 so she could travel quickly from a meeting in Auckland to her 60th birthday celebrations on New Zealand's North Island.

Mr Evans said the soprano had told Mr Grace of her concerns about performing with Farnham, one of Australia's best known pop singers, but the manager did not pass on that information to the promoters.

"On many occasions, Dame Kiri told Mr Grace that she was not committed and had some reservations about co-performing with John Farnham," he said. Her concerns were heightened after she watched recordings of Farnham in concert.

The opera singer thought that Farnham was disturbingly chatty on stage, and was taken aback to see ladies' underwear being thrown at him. "It would have become apparent to Mr Grace that Dame Kiri might not agree to perform with John Farnham, yet that was never ... properly communicated to the plaintiff," Mr Evans said.

"So the plaintiff was led into error in thinking if someone's pants ended up on the stage that was not enough to dissuade Dame Kiri from performing with John Farnham."

Dame Kiri was not in court yesterday. She has launched her own legal action against Mr Grace over the failed concerts.

After the concerts were cancelled, Farnham was quoted as saying that he understood why Dame Kiri required total silence on stage. "Kiri is obviously a dame, and I mean that with great respect," he said.

Farnham, 57, has been performing for four decades, but he does not have the international reputation of Dame Kiri, one of the world's best known opera divas.

She cancelled the concert series in March 2004, despite receiving assurances from Frank Williams, the head of Leading Edge, that no underwear would be thrown when the pair appeared together. She also cited concerns about payment methods and issues about artistic control.

Mr Evans told the court about other diva-style behaviour by Dame Kiri, who refused to acknowledge Mr Williams's business partner, Eileen Newbury, when the pair were introduced at a restaurant. He said that the soprano also spent some time "remonstrating" with a waitress over a glass of mineral water.

According to media reports, Dame Kiri will appear in court to give evidence later this week.

The hearing continues.