Dame Kiri Te Kanawa sings in public for the first time in 8 years as Parliament marks her 80th birthday

New Zealand's most famous soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has sung in public for the first time since she retired eight years ago.

Her impromptu performance came during a special celebration to mark her recent 80th birthday at Parliament on Tuesday, where she sung alongside one of her former students, Kawiti Waetford. 

The Dame told Newshub afterwards that she hadn't planned on singing.

"No, I thought I'd help Kawiti out because he was nervous, I wasn't," she said.

Waetford said it was a wonderful surprise when she began singing next to him.

"It was a beautiful reminder of the power of the voice, and the power of music to bring people together," he said.

Dame Kiri's musical career has spanned 50 years, performing on the world's biggest stages, singing for the late Queen Elizabeth and at then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding. She's won the world's highest accolades for her talents and commitment to opera and has even been on Downton Abbey.

However, on Tuesday it was New Zealand's Parliament paying her tribute, following a motion to recognise her achievements by Arts and Culture Minister Paul Goldsmith, for her 80th birthday this month.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson recalled fond memories of her father working alongside Dame Kiri in her earlier days on tour, and told her how proud she was of Dame Kiri's success.

"Fancy having one of our own wāhine Māori right at the top of international and long-standing acknowledgement of talent in the opera, in the singing space," Davidson said.

In 2003, Dame Kiri created the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to help outstanding young opera singers and musicians with their international careers, and it was this work that Māori Party MP Mariameno Kapa-Kingi thanked her for.

"You've inspired as well as helped young Māori, invoked the ancestral magic that lies in their hukapapa," she said.

It was also an opportunity for a sales pitch from Labour Minister Willie Jackson.

"We lost a few seats and we have an available spot in the North at the moment, Dame Kiri, and so feel free to get in touch with me if you feel the need to join politics," he joked.  

It's a day the Dame won't be forgetting, with all of Parliament recognising her many achievements. 

"It's been a great privilege to receive that and I must say it's going to last with me forever," she said.