Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's maiden Boston recital last Sunday was everything a major-city debut should be: well thought out, impeccably executed, and stunningly successful - even in terms of high-luster, modern divadom of which she is considered the perfect prototype.
She appeared in flowing white chiffon, a tower of grace and calm. Her ravishing beauty and height etched as sharp a visual presence as the vocal beauty that emanated from her in unexcelled interpretations of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Faure, and Duparc.
Like Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Lisa Della Casa before her, the New Zealand-born diva has flowered in the repertory of Mozart and Strauss. She displayed her creamy timbre with extraordinary ease, starting whimsically with Mozart's ''Chi sa, chi sa,'' then singing ''Nehmt meinen Dank.'' The variety of her choice in four songs of Schubert - short, long, comic, and grave - reflected her great versatility. The key descriptive word for this recital was control. Dame Kiri seemed supremely confident at any register, but restrained when it came time to impress with decibels. The recital format seems to be her forte, as a recent portrayal of ''Arabella'' in Chicago - drowned by the orchestration - showed. Her more delicate nobility seems more at home with one arm on the piano.
After intermission were two light, pulsing offerings from Faure and two Debussy-esque offerings from Duparc (the ethereal ''L'Invitation au voyage'' and the more athletic ''Le Manoir de Rosamonde'').
She sang four encores, including Puccini's ''O mio babbino caro,'' from ''Gianni Schicchi,'' and ''Chi il bel sogno di doretta,'' from ''La Rondine.'' In these selections she put conservatism behind her and really belted them out in hot-blooded, Italian style, pushing her voice slightly but showing its awesome wealth of coloration. When the audience applauded her to one final appearance, she sang what sounded like a Maori folk hymn from her native New Zealand.
An auspicious evening, to be sure.