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Voices in the Forest operatic spectacle launched at National Aboretum

An ethereal note reached out over the audience as light streamed through the glass, illuminating the sole figure standing on stage swathed in cascading blue tulle.

The crowd was captivated as Australian soprano Cheryl Barker ended her final note and for a brief moment a transfixed silence hung in the air before applause broke out.

Her performance marked the launch of the Voices in the Forest concert to be held at the National Arboretum in November.

The concert will see the lush, sloping amphitheatre transformed into an operatic spectacle featuring some of Australia's finest voices, including Barker's.

Barker made her name when she starred as Mimi in Baz Luhrmann's 1990 award-winning production of La Boheme and has since gone on to sing lead roles with the Hamburg State Opera, Beijing Opera and Paris Opera.

Singing offers Barker a tangible connection with the audience that she described as an out-of-body-experience.


"Music is good for the soul, singing especially," she said.

"It lets you connect with the audience and the conductor…it's the most wonderful feeling, it's like you're flying."

Voices in the Forest artistic director Chris Latham is moved by the power of the voice in a similar way.

"I think when people hear beautiful singing it can touch them really deeply, and in this way the concert is a gift," Mr Latham said.

"People can sit there and bask in beautiful music and you can see the audience slowly opening like a flower."

It's this passion for music that prompted the theme for this year's concert – love – for which Mr Latham has created a program based on the singers' favourite works.

For Barker this means pieces from La Boheme, which will dominate the second act of the concert.

"The program is so generous and gives me an opportunity to sing works I really love," Barker said.

"It's been a long time since I've sung La Boheme, so it'll be like revisiting my past."

Singing alongside Barker, who Latham described as the "reigning queen of Australian opera", will be Mexican tenor Diego Torre and Argentinian-born Australian Jose Carbo.

Mr Latham said the trio had worked together on numerous occasions, making them the ideal cast for the operatic performance.

"It's a dream cast really," he said.

"Their voices gel wonderfully and it'll be really quite magical."

This year sees the concert celebrate its fifth anniversary, securing its place on Canberra's musical calendar and receiving a steadily growing audience since its inception in 2011.

"I think we're getting to the point where it's becoming a Canberra institution," Mr Latham said.

"We're no longer just a recent start-up and I think that might have to do with a kind of cultural renaissance that's going on in Canberra at the moment."

Voices in the Forest will be held on November 21 at the National Arboretum. Tickets are on sale now.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the concert will take place in August.