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Taking flight with lark ascending

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Larissa Nicholson

The crowd applaud as South Korean soprano Sumi Jo  performs at the Voices of the Forest concert. Click for more photos

Voices of the Forest

Award-winning South Korean soprano Sumi Jo performing at the Voices of the Forest concert at the National Arboretum, 24th November 2012. Photo: Colleen Petch

THE breathtaking sounds of one of the world's most famous opera singers rang out across the hills of Canberra on Saturday night.

Sumi Jo took the stage at Voices in the Forest as more than 4400 people filled the National Arboretum's amphitheatre to hear the South Korean singer, who has now been dubbed perhaps the best soprano to sing in the nation's capital.

Australian soprano Amelia Farrugia and tenor Stuart Skelton and a host of local classical musicians also entertained the crowd.

But the night was dominated by the physically diminutive Sumi Jo.

Dressed in a ruffled grey, floor-length gown and pink sash, she sang pieces by Johann Strauss II and Michael William Balfe.

Her singing of Memory from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, dedicated to the victims of the Canberra bushfires almost a decade ago, got a rousing reception.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Governor-General Quentin Bryce sat in front-row seats.

The event's creative director, Chris Latham, said it was an emotional night for the Canberra performers, several of whom had recently lost their jobs at the ANU School of Music.

''There's been some part of this program that's been a chance for musicians to stand up and say, we do what we do really well and we're very serious about it, and this is our gift and what we provide to the city,'' he said. He said the local musicians had been inspired to new heights by working with headliner Sumi Jo, whom he described as probably the best soprano ever to sing in Canberra, and ''absolutely and utterly a miraculous singer''.

The event was designed so people unfamiliar with opera could get a taste for the art form, he said.

''It's the idea to make something of spectacular beauty, unusual quality, and then just present it in a very friendly, open way so people would bring their families and come and sit on the hill and look at Canberra and enjoy themselves,'' Mr Latham said.

Farrugia, who flew into Canberra from Sydney on Friday, performed several waltzes from famous operas.

''I love being closer to people and in a more intimate, relaxed environment,'' she said.

''I find opera houses can be very formal, whereas in this kind of atmosphere people are more themselves and you can generally be a bit more yourself.''

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