The CultureMap Interview
Would it be weird to begin a Sarah Brightman interview with a plea for her to "sing, my angel of music?" After all, the unmistakably famed line was delivered by the namesake character of Phantom of the Opera at chorus girl Christine Daaé, a character written for Brightman by her former husband and grand poobah of musical theater Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The 58-year-old English artist has had an illustrious career that has included mostly singing and some dancing on many of the world's most fabulous stages such as making her debut in the inaugural production of Cats in London's West End. Then there was performing at a handful of Olympics opening night ceremonies, a duet with Andrea Bocelli that topped most European charts and being named a 2012 UNESCO Artist for Peace. This gal is one busy chanteuse.
Brightman's latest project, her album Hymn, is the main focus of her concert tour that brings her to Houston on February 25 at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. CultureMap caught up with the singer to get the latest on her pursuits.
CultureMap: Hymn came after your rigorous training in the Russian Space Program. The Big Issue wrote that the album reconciles your fascination with science and a belief that a vacuum of spirituality has resulted in quite challenging times. What are you saying with Hymn?
Sarah Brightman: I withdrew from the space program training for various reasons, not much to do with me. When I left the harsh environment in the Russian military, I had a very long time to focus on what was happening in the world. I took note of what was happening around me. People were unsettled. Situations were chaotic. Economies were crumbling and crises were everywhere. I wanted to offer something that was joyous and uplifting. I found material from all over the world to give people a sense of optimism.
CM: What brings you joy?
SB: The simplest things do. When I lost my father a few years ago and with the realization that his breath had stopped, the simple act of breathing brings me joy. I love my family and simple things like taking a walk by the sea and watching movies.
CM: Let's time travel to your beginnings as an entertainer. Your first break was in Disco, yes?
SB: I was a teenager and disco was the genre of my time. It was the end of an era right before punk came to Britain in the '80s. Easy disco to the likes of Olivia Newton-John. That meant high, girlie and poppy voices.
CM: Has there been a character you’ve played on stage that most resembles your own journey and sensibilities?
SB: There are certainly moments of a character, for example the character of Rose Vibert in Aspects of Love. Rose is a young actress that works hard to gain acceptance and respect in her field. I know what that feels like.
CM: Let’s talk about your former husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber, with whom you continue to have a professional relationship after your divorce. Do you have a favorite moment during that marriage?
SB: Lots of them, actually, but that was a long time ago and some of my memory has faded. But being near the beach in the south of France when he was composing and I was singing at the piano. The experience was very personal and more than just work.
CM: You trained with Elizabeth Hawes at Trinity Music College and with Ellen Faull at Juilliard. What were important lessons that you learned from those two influential women in music?
SB: That timing is incredibly important. You have to deliver on time at the right time for audiences to connect with what you have to say. And to never push your voice. To keep the natural quality of your voice, always, to keep it moving and keep it flexible. They also taught me when to let go and let the art take over.
CM: Your Hymn tour is quite demanding, often singing day after day in different cities. Between traveling and performing, how do you take care of your voice?
SB: I plan my tours well, so I rest between a heavy touring schedule and other projects like recording. I do huge amounts of vocal work with coaches around the world. I often perform one-off concerts in between tours just to always remember what it feels like to be on stage. Right before a busy tour, I build up so I'm strong vocally.
CM: What inspires you lately?
SB: I'm grateful that I live an extraordinary life, visit many places and get to meet incredible people. I love learning from different people I meet during my travels.
Sarah Brightman performs at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land on Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $55 and can be purchased online.