The dispute stems from a set of outdoor arena concerts billed as "Two Great Voices," planned for February 2005 in Melbourne and Sydney, pairing the New Zealand diva with Australian pop star John Farnham. Contract negotiations, venue rental, publicity and ticket sales were all underway when Te Kanawa pulled out entirely in March 2004, citing concerns over artistic control. Leading Edge Events, the promoter producing the concerts, claimed that they had already incurred nearly A$400,000 in expenses and sued the soprano and her former manager, Nick Grace, for A$600,000, plus 25% of potential profits from the venture up to a total of A$2 million.
Te Kanawa testified in a Sydney courtroom last month that she withdrew from the project after seeing, and being horrified by, a DVD of a Farnham concert. In the performance she saw, as at many of the pop crooner's appearances, his middle-aged female fans threw panties at the stage. (This was, of course, the detail that excited headline writers worldwide.) She told the court that she found the spectacle "absolutely horrendous" and that she "was concerned about the knickers or underpants and underwear apparel being thrown at him and him collecting it and obviously holding it in his hands as some sort of trophy.
"How could I, in my classical form, perform in this way?" she asked.
In her decision — handed down today and reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Associated Press, BBC News and other outlets — Judge Patricia Bergin of the New South Wales Supreme Court found that, while Te Kanawa had stipulated various details of her appearances at the concerts and knew that Leading Edge was incurring advance expenses, no binding contract had been made and the soprano is thus not liable for damages.
Mittane, the holding company that employs and manages Te Kanawa for such events, was ordered to reimburse Leading Edge A$130,000 for its advance expenditures.
Judge Bergin also found that, while the panty issue figured in the diva's withdrawal, Te Kanawa cancelled primarily because she was "extremely resentful" that Farnham missed a planning meeting with her in Auckland. Farnham claimed that he could not fly to New Zealand from Australia for the meeting because of an electrical storm; Te Kanawa's lawyers argued that other planes were flying between the countries that day.
In her ruling, as quoted by the Herald, the judge stated that "Mittane was entitled to withdraw from negotiations, but its conduct suggests to me that it had some real doubts about the fairness of such withdrawal. Mittane was not truthful as to the real reason for its withdrawal, being that Dame Kiri ... simply did not want to perform at the concerts."