InDepth InterView: Sarah Brightman Talks New DREAMCHASER Album, Plus PHANTOM Memories, Lloyd Webber & More
Today we are talking to an internationally celebrated performer who has scaled the highest heights of the music industry over the course of her incredibly impressive career and also inspired and originated a leading role in one of the most famous Broadway musicals of all time in the process, Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - the refreshingly unique and singularly gifted vocalist Sarah Brightman. Granting a rare exclusive interview while preparing for the US debut of her new space-themed studio album, DREAMCHASER, Brightman reveals the impetus for the project and shares illuminating insights and opinions on the vast array of musical material, new and old, included on this idiosyncratic and immensely transporting new release - Paul McCartney to Sia and far beyond. Additionally, Brightman reveals plans for a promotional tour in support of DREAMCHASER and discusses some of the intriguing bonus tracks - including a song in Japanese. Also, Brightman takes a look back at her theatrical legacy and her role in the creation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, sharing stories of rehearsing the original production with Hal Prince, Michael Crawford, Lloyd Webber and company as well as the musical's legacy as the world's most successful entertainment ever. Plus, Brightman offers remembrances of her spectacular appearances at PHANTOM 25 at the Royal Albert Hall as well as the recent Broadway anniversary and offers up thoughts on Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM sequel, LOVE NEVER DIES. All of that, memories of starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday Celebration, filming FIRST NIGHT with Julian Ovenden, memories of Marvin Hamlisch, future plans, thoughts on GLEE and much, much more awaits in this career-spanning conversation!
More information on Sarah Brightman's DREAMCHASER is available at her official site here.
PC: Was it somewhat challenging for you to create a new album experience so unique while still staying true to your sound and what fans have come to expect from your releases? DREAMCHASER is certainly different from every other album of yours.
SB: Yes, a bit, I would say - but, I think it was really about joining up the space theme with the feel of the album and what I wanted to do with it. It was about joining up all the dots between people's feelings about space, planets and stars that has been going on in our emotions and ideas as a race for thousands of years in our journey, since man began - I mean, in ancient times, they used the stars and the heavens in their arts and sciences.
PC: Space is a pervasive theme throughout history.
SB: It is. I wanted to bring in all the arts we have that involve space into the experience - it is such a prevalent part of all of our lives, after all. So, it was really about picking pieces that I thought were expansive in their feel, like the universe, but, at the same time, also had a message and looked at life and the universe from a different perspective.
PC: A tall order.
SB: Actually, in the choosing of the pieces, it really didn't take me very long, though - because all of these pieces I more or less knew for the most part. I mean, I am an interpreter of music rather than a composer of it. So, the big challenge was finding the right sound to mix everything together and working with the producer, Mike Hedges, on finding that.
PC: Striking the right balance.
SB: Exactly. In the end, I think that all the songs join together so beautifully and yet they come from so many different times and have such different styles.
PC: DREAMCHASER ideally reflects you, you would say?
SB: Yes. This is who I am as an artist and this is what I love to do - creating projects like this.
PC: I sense a little FLY and a bit of DIVE, but it's mostly a whole new album sound.
SB: Yes, I think I know exacrly what you mean. We wanted it to feel expansive, though, generally - just like space.
PC: Is your interpretation of "Breathe Me" along the same lines as its use on SIX FEET UNDER - a song relating to death and the afterlife? Do you see space as containing heaven?
SB: Yes, you have hit the nail on the head, I think, Pat - that is what it is all about, I think. You know, we are all made up of stars and all of us are billions of years old - that's what I believe, at least. So, for me, that particular song just felt right - though it may not be a song people would have particularly thought I would take on or ever do on an album. It just felt like it would fit into this album really well and I think it does.
PC: It's a definite highlight - and this album has many.
SB: Thank you for saying that. Rollo Armstrong, who worked on it and mixed it, has such an understanding about great songwriters - I mean, his sister is Dido!
PC: That says it all right there!
SB: Yes, she is extraordinary, isn't she? He is, too - he had his own group for a number of years, Faithless. So, anyway, he really understood the concept that I wanted to bring to that song in particular.
PC: Would you be open to a duet with Dido someday, then?
SB: [Laughs.] Oh, yes - that would be wonderful. I've heard her new album is really great.
PC: Have you met Sia or played the track for her yet?
SB: No, I haven't, unfortunately, but I know quite a few people who have worked with her and know her and they all say she is absolutely wonderful. She is a wonderful songwriter, I know that for sure.
PC: Tell me about "B612", easily the most experimental track on the album.
SB: Yes, I think I would tend to agree with you on that. Well, "B612" is two things, really - one of them is the lovely story of THE LITTLE PRINCE, where the little boy is sitting on an asteroid and spends his days watering his plants and so on, dealing with his garden there, and, then, it is about his moving to different stars and then finally coming to earth. Do you know that story?
PC: Of course. Antoine De Saint-Exupery.
SB: Of course - it's one almost everybody knows, I think. So, I got the original idea from that - especially since that is a child's understanding of space and everything that surrounds us and yet it expresses the deep emotions and feelings we feel; and, love, obviously; and life; and death.
PC: It's a classic for a reason, clearly.
SB: There is actually a company called B612 that an astronaut actually sort of started and it's how we keep track of all the asteroids that go round our earth. Actually, there are far more of them than we initially realized - we obviously have to keep an eye on them now because there is always danger that one of them will enter the earth's atmosphere and cause harm. So, that just felt like a really great sort of informational aspect to put on top of this wonderful piece of music. So, that was it, basically.
PC: You went with your heart.
SB: Yes. You know, I work by feeling on all of these things.
PC: DREAMCHASER also has a popular favorite thanks to Paul McCartney's "Venus And Mars".
SB: I know! I know. I couldn't resist! [Laughs.] I love the Beatles and Sir Paul, what can I say?!
PC: You had to "let it be," as the case may be?
SB: Yes, I did! I did. Exactly. [Laughs.] It's sort of a bit tongue-in-cheek, its inclusion, of course.
PC: It fits in perfectly, though.
SB: Thank you. Yes, I'm quite glad we included it - I hope people will enjoy that one in particular.
PC: How did you come to record this very idiosyncratic "Ave Maria"?
SB: Well, first, Hildegard Von Bingen was a nearly medieval writer who was very spiritual and philosophical and she wrote for women's voices and was working with chants and that kind of sound - I find that it was something meditative, something that was other-worldly that she was creating. That particular sound is in many of her pieces and I wanted to choose a piece that has that quality for this album. I think it has a sort of chill-out feel about it, as well, actually, do you?
PC: Undoubtedly. I do.
SB: Yes, so I think it is quite meditative in its feeling and I thought it would really suit this theme of space and this sound we wanted to have on this.
PC: And, if everything else weren't enough, we even get to hear you sing in Japanese on DREAMCHASER!
SB: Yes! Yes, you do - that is a bonus track, though! [Laughs.]
PC: As a big fan of yours, I have to say that DREAMCHASER is a dream - start to finish.
SB: Yes, I am really proud of how it turned out, so I am excited to see how it is received in the States and how audiences take to the new material on the tour when we begin in September. It is a very exciting time. I am so happy to hear that you have enjoyed it, though! That's wonderful to hear.
PC: Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday Celebration was one of the greatest concerts ever filmed. Do you have fond memories of that night?
SB: Oh, yes - the one with Antonio Banderas as the Phantom, right?
SB: Yes, I loved performing with Antonio. That really was a quite wonderful evening, actually, wasn't it? I haven't thought about it in a while.
PC: Unquestionably. Your "Music Of The Night" that night may very well be definitive.
SB: Oh, that's so kind of you to say, Pat! Since you've mentioned it, now that I think of that night, I remember that my voice was in an especially good place at that time - I had been studying in Italy with a wonderful coach and working very heavily on the bel canto area.
PC: You were primed to deliver a memorable performance, then?
SB: Yes, I suppose I was! [Laughs.] When I went to do the 50th Birthday Celebration, I was in very good voice, so I was able to sort of seamlessly find my way through rehearsals and also the performance itself. So, yes, I remember being very relaxed that night and very happy with the way it all turned out. It was a very memorable evening.
PC: Your initial entrance during the REQUIEM section is spine-tingling. Unforgettable.
SB: Yes - that was a really fun entrance, wasn't it?! [Laughs.] Thank you, though.
PC: Looking back, what is your fondest memory of working with Michael Crawford on the original THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?
SB: [Pause. Big Laugh.] Oh, Michael!
PC: There is just so much to say, right?!
SB: There is - wonderful and complex; that's Michael. I think that one of the sweetest and funniest, and the memory that just happens to come to me when you ask is when we disagreed once in a conversation we were having before the show one night. Now, I have quite a funny - wicked - sense of humor and Michael had always been very precise about where he stood for every performance; very exact. He always knew precisely where he would be standing at all times and he didn't particularly like it when we changed anything, but he is such a wonderful performer that he always wanted to experiment and seize the moment, too, and so sometimes he would do something different to keep the performance fresh and so on. So, because we disagreed about something at that time, I don't know what happened but something just came over me one night and I just decided I would stand on a completely different part of the stage during, I think, "Music Of The Night". [Laughs.]
PC: No way! What did he do?
SB: I can't remember exactly where it was in the staging now, but I remember that his reaction was just amazing - and it was actually good for him! It brought a whole different mood to that particular moment and infused the entire performance with a whole new spark. But, yes... [Laughs.] his face when he was doing his part during that scene was just... something I shall never forget!
PC: What a hilarious memory.
SB: I think he put a little extra fear and energy into his performance that night and as a result the ovation was just incredible for him - so, he ended up not being too upset with me after all! [Laughs.]
PC: It worked out for the best!
SB: Yes, I think it did. So, yes, that is just a moment for example.
PC: Is it true you had a horse and doves and other elements that did not make it past rehearsals?
SB: Exactly - yes, we did; quite a few different things like that, actually. That's why you have rehearsals, though - and there are a lot of funny things that happen within them as a result.
PC: The horse caused some logistical problems in particular, yes?
SB: [Laughs.] Yes, indeed - oh, I think so!
PC: The second a horse walks onstage it's always the same reaction...
SB: Of course! That's what they do! And, then, the performance becomes all about that... [Laughs.]
PC: From the ridiculous to the sublime: your performance at PHANTOM 25 was absolutely phenomenal. Was that a memorable night, as well?
SB: It was - it really was. You know, to be honest, I really had to get my head around doing it again - I don't so often do that piece in concert anymore because other things have taken over, and, if I do something it tends to be other Lloyd Webber pieces; other things. So, to get my head around going onstage, with all the PHANTOM performances I had performed before, it took on a much different feeling - it took me about a month to really get prepared and to get myself into it, honestly.
PC: Back on the horse, as it were.
SB: Yes! [Laughs.] But, once I got to rehearsals and got out onstage, it was a lovely, lovely moment - and, it was actually quite lovely to have somebody else playing the part before and I just sort of came on at the end and sang a little piece from it as the sort of person that I am now, to date, not as Christine or anything like that.
PC: An epic coda.
SB: My mother actually saw it while in Miami - she and my brother were staying in my home there, having a holiday - and she went to go see it at the movie theater to watch it live. She rang me up afterwards and said, "Oh, that was so exciting! It was so fantastic to see it from that perspective!" She said some very, very good things. She was very impressed with seeing it like that., I think.
PC: Would you be open to a Fathom-presented in-theater DREAMCHASER concert event someday soon?
SB: Why, yes - maybe. That sounds like it could be quite exciting. Since I am not coming to the States until the end of September, there is a sort of moment to set it all up, actually. Fathom is a wonderful, wonderful thing and I know that the opera companies have had much success with broadcasting to movie theaters in addition to theatre things doing it, too, so it can be a really beautiful thing to do.
PC: What do you think of modern HD technology and the ability to record performances with such stunning audio and video quality now? Are you planning on filming and releasing a DVD for the DREAMCHASER tour eventually?
SB: To tell you the truth, I haven't thought about it yet - it is definitely something that could get done as we go along, though. The concepts and what I come up with are always a journey and they carry on and develop over a couple of years, so I tend not to do everything all at once, in a hurry - I like to see how everything is moving and how people are enjoying certain aspects. So, I sort of set things up as we go along.
PC: Have you considered performing or recording any material from Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM sequel, LOVE NEVER DIES?
SB: Do you know, I haven't actually ever thought about doing that, but I have listened to pieces from that and heard different arrangements of things from it and I think that Andrew actually did some amazing things with it and that will all come out and be recognized more in the future. I really do. As a composer, he has really grown since PHANTOM, I think - there are moments in there that are extraordinary and things he has never approached doing before. I don't know, I think that it is an amazing piece of work, especially when you listen to it [as a score].
PC: "Beneath A Moonless Sky" is exceptional.
SB: Yes, it is a remarkable score, I think.
PC: What are your thoughts on GLEE? Would you be open to appearing on it someday? There have been many references to PHANTOM over the years, needless to say.
SB: Oh, yes - I loved it and I still love it! I think GLEE is absolutely great - I would love to appear on it.
PC: You recently co-starred with Julian Ovenden on FIRST NIGHT - what about you two doing a duet someday soon? Or maybe joining him on SMASH or DOWNTON ABBEY?
SB: Oh, yes, of course I would. I have to say, Julian was totally lovely on FIRST NIGHT - really lovely. I found that he is a very focused actor and it was a great experience for me because I was just conducting...
PC: Unusual for the angel of music, no?
SB: Yes, quite! [Laughs.] It was quite unusual for me to do that, though - it really was. You know, there I am, conducting all of these people in that scene in the film - with them all singing Mozart!
PC: Talk about a challenge!
SB: Yes, Mozart is always a bit of a challenge - you know, even though it is often given to very young singers, it is actually the most complicated to sing in many instances.
PC: How interesting.
SB: Yes, so, it was really actually quite wonderful to watch everybody have to do it and everything and just have to sort of conduct them all from afar - that's all I had to do. [Laughs.]
PC: With an album titled DREAMCHASER, I would be remiss not to compliment you on your recording of Marvin Hamlisch's gorgeous "Dreamers". Did you ever get to work with him?
SB: Yes, I did. I actually worked with him directly on "Dreamers" for that album and he helped me with it quite a bit.
PC: What was your experience like working with him, one on one? Did he give you any particular insights?
SB: Well, to be perfectly honest, the way that he played it gave me all the insight that I needed! [Laughs.]
PC: There is nothing like the composer playing his own song for you - as you yourself would well know, I'm sure.
SB: Yes, I suppose I would! But, yes, that was all I needed, really - him playing it for me like he did. I remember him playing it for me through once and I just sort of sang alongside him and that was everything I needed. You know, he was just so naturally musical and the way that he played it was all I needed it - he had mapped it all out emotionally for me by doing that. [Pause. Sighs.] Marvin just had such a special energy and I am very sad that he is no longer here with us.
PC: It is a devastating loss to all of the entertainment industry.
SB: I felt very privileged to have known him at that time and I am honored to have worked with him and recorded what I think is one of his most beautiful songs.
PC: In his career he famously worked with two other theatrical icons like yourself - Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Lastly, I'd love to know your thoughts on those two fellow legendary divas.
SB: Oh, I think they are both amazing, amazing artists. You know, there is a reason that both have had the longetivity in their careers that they have had. They have each done very different things throughout their careers and lived really interesting lives. There is a reason why they are up there still. After all, there is only one Barbra Streisand and one Liza Minnelli.
PC: And only one Sarah Brightman. Thank you so much for this today - it was truly fascinating and delightful.
SB: Oh, thanks so very much to you, too, Pat - this was marvelous. All my best to you, too. Bye bye.
BONUS: Check out the music video for Sarah Brightman's new DREAMCHASER single, "One Day Like This".
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, EMI, Dewynters, etc.