Thursday May 9, 2013
Brightman’s space odyssey
By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
Forget classical crossover music (aka popera), Sarah Brightman rockets ahead with a space-themed album.
WHEN Sarah Brightman speaks, she has a certain innocence about her that is alluring. It’s hard not to like her.
Widely considered one of the world’s best-selling sopranos, her work transcends any specific musical genre, synthesising many influences and inspirations into a unique sound and vision. Her voice has rung out from theatres, arenas, cathedrals, world heritage centres and Olympic stadiums, bringing to life some of the world’s most beautiful music.
Presently, Brightman is busy promoting her 11th studio album, Dreamchaser, which hit the stores on April 8. She is about to begin her world tour, which will kick off in China next month. We catch up during a phone interview while she is staying on an island between Sicily in Italy and North Africa.
“I’m in the middle of some island. Just to let you know, I am not on a holiday!” she chirps in her high-pitched voice, apologising for the late night call. “I am actually working and I’ve just arrived at the hotel.”
Produced by Mike Hedges, Brightman considers the album her best to date.
“I have known him since I was 18. He has worked with groups like U2, Dido, monks and spiritual people, and I felt he was the right person for the album, which is very space-themed. I wanted someone who would understand the expansive feelings I wanted from the album so it’s different from what I have done before. The soundscape is completely different but it is still me singing,” she explains.
Her last album Symphony (2008), had a dark, gothic feel to it and reflected the happenings at that point in her life.
“With this album, I wanted to embark on a space journey so it’s quite uplifting. It was scientific talk when we made the sound, it is quite metaphysical as well. It ranges from beautiful pieces like One Day Like This, which is an (British indie band) Elbow song to Glosoli, from Sigur Ros. My favourite is the first track, Angel. These pieces link together beautifully because the message is all about emotions of human beings.
“I’m an interpreter of music and I’m proud of that,” Brightman attests. “I’m able to be very free, to go in all directions – to choose music (based on) what it makes me feel within myself. That guides me to what I need to do. It comes from very deep feelings. Although I’m singing other composers’ music, it’s still very connected to me.”
For Brightman, Dreamchaser is a culmination, an ethos – the perfect soundtrack to what’s next for her, and what’s next for all of us.
“Humankind’s ability to set and deliver goals combined with the individual’s pursuit of their dreams and desires are perhaps the most powerful forces that we know. Believing that something may be out of reach should never stop us stretching for it – the journey should be as rewarding as arriving at the destination.”
Dreamchaser is also the realisation of a lifelong journey that began when she was a little girl growing up in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire in England, dreaming of spectacular things.
“When I look back, my mind’s eye brings me a rush of images from all of the incredible things that I have been privileged to experience in my life,” she says. “But if I keep tracking back, my thoughts eventually come to rest on a flickering TV screen in 1969.”
That summer, when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and Neil Armstrong bounded across its surface, Brightman felt herself transform, and all her hopes and aspirations shift.
“Watching the first man land on the moon – it was an epiphany. It changed things. It actually helped me understand what it was that I had to do in my life, to further myself, to do things, to think outside of the box,” she adds. “I could go that far, I could do that. From that moment, I started to work really hard.”
Now, at age 52, Brightman is about to embark on what she calls “the greatest adventure I can imagine.”
As if travelling the world is not enough, she plans on becoming the first recording artiste to venture into space en route to the International Space Station sometime in the next two years.
She will be part of a three-person team on board a Soyuz rocket, where she’ll orbit the earth 16 times daily and become the first professional musician to record a song from space – another groundbreaking moment in a career already riddled with firsts.
Who would have thought Brightman, who was tone deaf as a child, would achieve international fame.
“I had extremely bad tonsils and adenoids which impaired my hearing for a while. It affected my speech and I had to be operated on twice. I guess the doctor didn’t get all the parts out so my hearing was affected,” she recalls.
Adenoids are a mass of enlarged lymphatic tissue between the back of the nose and the throat, which often hinders speaking and breathing in young children.
“But I was always very musical and my only way of communicating was through songs, so I sang. I was only clear with my hearing at seven or eight – even then I had some problems. Everything’s fine now!”
Now she takes care of her voice and trains with somebody every day.
“Depending on where I am geographically, I work with vocal coaches. It’s the best care you can take although there is a metaphysical side to singing, and a sort of spiritual side to it. It’s also very physical. We’re really like an athlete who has to fine-tune the muscles,” she says.
Once typecast as composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s big-eyed, toothy toy girl, Brightman, has a voice that is soothing yet powerful.
She started singing and dancing at the age of three. She began her career as a member of the television dance troupe, Hot Gossip and released several successful disco hit singles as a solo performer. In 1981 Brightman made her West End musical theatre debut in Cats where she met Lloyd Webber.
Just from listening to her three-octave vocal range, you can tell why Lloyd Webber, whom she eventually married and divorced, created the role of Christine in Phantom Of The Opera specifically for her.
He apparently cast such a shadow that she had to leave Britain after the split to re-establish herself in her own right. With that, her stage career ended. She has since come out on her own.
Brightman has found a new level of fame as a classical crossover or “popera” artiste, a phrase she can’t stand, though it’s a genre she is lumped under, along with tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli.
“I don’t really know what it means,” she states, a little agitated over the label. “I think the term started with Pavarotti. Over time, record companies didn’t know how to deal with us. It wasn’t really classical or pop though it’s a genre by itself. There are no crossover sections in billboards or charts so they had to find somewhere to put artistes like us. It still doesn’t make sense to me.”
But, there is mass appeal in the genre. Brightman is the first artiste to have been invited twice to perform at the Olympic Games, first at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where she sang Amigos Para Siempre with the Spanish tenor Jose Carreras, and in 2008, in Beijing, China, with Chinese singer Liu Huan, performing the song You And Me to an estimated four billion people worldwide.
Singing runs in her family and the entire Brightman clan, comprising six siblings, can all sing, except for one.
“The others didn’t really want to pursue it more. My very youngest sister talks about wanting to do it, but has yet to,” she says, laughing when asked if singing was part of family gatherings.
“We’re not like the Osmonds, I’m afraid! And I’m always travelling.”
Dreamchaser by Sarah Brightman is released by Universal Music Malaysia.