Voices back in ‘Stradivarius of an amphitheatre’

THE WEATHER was very much on people’s minds at midday when, on a glorious Canberra day yesterday, the “Voices in the Forest” team announced its program for November 21.

Cheryl Barker yesterday, photo Leigh Atkinson

Cheryl Barker yesterday, photo Leigh Atkinson

It wasn’t just the MC, Philip Clark of 666 radio, who described last year’s downpour as “positively Wagnerian” Minister Shane Rattenbury, there to do the honours, said the fact that so many people stuck it out last year in the rain was a testament to the great success of the event so far. The brains behind the whole thing, developer Bob Winnel, said he would prefer “a wonderful day in November” and not a washout like last year’s, which had seen audiences dwindle to 4200 from the previous year’s 4800. They were looking at 5200 for 2015, he said and ultimately needed 6000 people to put the event on a secure footing.

The optimistic Winnel, opera fan extraordinaire engaged artistic director Chris Latham some years ago to set up the unique outdoor event in Canberra’s National Arboretum, asking him to get the world’s most famous soprano – he got Sumi Jo and the rest is history.

Latham, for his part, predicted that the 2015 concert would be the “most loved” of all, as he had put together a program set around the theme of love and romance as exemplified by Puccini’s “La boheme”, featuring three of Opera Australia’s stars, Cheryl Barker, Diego Torre and José Carbó.

It wasn’t an aria from “La boheme”, that we heard yesterday, however, but rather Tosca’s celebrated “Vissi d’arte” (“I live for art”) that brought the tissues out as Barker’s soaring voice hit the rafters of the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion.

She later returned perform a mischievous number by George Gershwin then, flanked by members of the Woden Valley Youth Choir, a round of “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by Alan Hicks.

Clark described “Voices in the Forest” as “a marvellous journey”, suggesting that in 2015 we were going to “keep it in the family” – a reference to the fact that all the artists are either Australians or regular performers in this country.

Rattenbury praised the personal passion of Winnel in getting behind “Voices” and Latham praised the Arboretum itself as “a gesture towards perpetuity.” There was a note of irony, he thought, in the surge of creative activity in Canberra at the moment was being fuelled by developers like Winnel and not, say, by universities.

Latham said “Voices in the Forest” was “a great gamble… a come one, come all event on the cusp of summer in this Stradivarius of an amphitheatre.”
“Voices in the Forest” at the National Arboretum, November 21 2015, bookings now open to canberraticketing.com.au or 6275 2700.

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