With her ironically titled new solo album, "Time To Say Goodbye," singer Sarah Brightman is asserting her presence while saying goodbye to musical comedy.
"I don't think I'll ever do musicals again," said Brightman, 36. "The way my voice is trained now, it doesn't lend itself to that kind of singing."
It's now nearly ten years since Sarah Brightman burst onto Broadway as the budding opera student Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, with a demonstration of clout by her then-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber. In 1987, he told a resistant Actors Equity Association that if they wouldn't accept Sarah as Christine, they wouldn't get Phantom of the Opera.
Equity embraced Brightman and Broadway embraced Phantom.
Since then, however, Brightman, has appeared on the legitimate stage only rarely, most notably in an international tour of a concert version of her ex-husband's (they divorced in 1990) stage work. She also has performed his "Requiem" in concert halls and on CD. The singer who began in a late 1970s London punk band, Hot Gossip, is now focusing almost exclusively on opera -- or, at any rate, in operatic singing. She's been in training since she was 21, in London, at New York's Juilliard and now with a coach in Italy.
"I've been training my voice for quite a few years in the operatic way," she said. "I have a great love for it. My career has taken in pop, musical theatre and opera. I wanted to do an album of beautiful music that combined all these influences but at the end of the day, give it a classical feel."
"Time To Say Goodbye" consists of opera selections like Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicci, and Mozart's "Alleluja," alongside more contemporary works like Brian May's "Who Wants To Live Forever," the Jerry Goldsmith/David Zippel song "No One Like You" and "La Wally" by Catalani.
She sings in Latin, Italian, Spanish and English on the album, mostly solos, but also collaborates with Jose Cura on "Just Show Me How to Love You," the Gipsy Kings on their "Tu Quieres volver" and Andrea Bocelli on the album's title track.
There are no songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, though she and Lord Andrew have performed together at special events, and he reportedly has written a Christmas song for her upcoming concert.
Despite its diversity of sources, "Time To Say Goodbye" indeed has a remarkably homogenous sound. All the above and others are arranged more or less as operatic pieces and sung in that style. Her 'backup group' throughout the CD is none other than the London Symphony Orchestra.
"It all fits together with no seams," she said approvingly. The album was produced by her boyfriend, Frank Peterson.
The album was released in Great Britain as "Timeless." Brightman said she does not know why the title was changed to "Time To Say Goodbye" (the title of one of the tracks); that it was a decision by the record company. The bilingual cut "Time To Say Goodbye" ("Con Te Partiro") was a pop hit in Europe, reportedly selling in the millions, which may have influenced the decision.
"I don't mind it being called that way; it's still a beautiful title," she said. "But the reason I called it 'Timeless' originally was because I hoped it might be a CD people could pick up in 10 years' time and still listen to."
Brightman, whose recording career also included a pre-Varese Sarabande gathering of engaging songs from unsuccessful shows, said the notion that became "Timeless/Time To Say Goodbye" began in the early 1990s when Brightman was preparing for a TV special in Germany. She was asked if she would consider a duet with a blind tenor named Andrea Bocelli (a man) who had recorded the song as a solo but had not had much success with it.
Their televised duet awakened interest in perhaps a full CD of songs in a similar style. "Before that time there didn't seem to be room in record market for record of that type," Brightman said. "Then when 'Time To Say Goodbye' became a hit, it seemed the public was ready."
Peterson urged her to consider including a collaboration with the Gipsy Kings, an idiosyncratic Spanish instrumental group. The song "Tu quieres volver" "was in a Spanish I didn't understand, and they way he sang it was so alien to me, I said, 'How could I sing it?' Frank said, 'Try it your own way; smooth the lines and give them your own feel.' I realized then what a beautiful song it was."
Also on the album is "Who Wants to Live Forever," a tune popularized by the late Freddy Mercury, lead singer of the rock group Queen. "I knew Freddy vaguely," she said. "We met once and he spent the time talking to me about opera and classical music. I always felt that, though he was known as a rock musician, if he had been an opera singer, a lot of his music would have been very operatic."
Sure enough, she said, the piece lent itself very easily to re-orchestration in classical style.
Despite her interest in opera, she said she has no plans to appear in an actual opera with an opera company. She if such a company invited her to sing Mimi in La Boheme, "I'd probably say yes," she said. But for the time being, "I think my life is very full. I do a tremendous amount of concert work, with the best orchestras and the best conductors. I get to sing all the operatic 'hits,' if you like. So that, for the moment, is satisfying to me."
Brightman maintains a home in London, but spends much of her time in Hamburg with Peterson, and in Milan with her Italian vocal teacher.
Brightman says she has no interest in a recently-published biography of Lloyd Webber. "I don't know what's in it, so I can't help you," she said. "I never read it. I'm sure it's full of lies."
From the time they met in the early 1980s when she played one of the kittens in the original U.K. Cats, to their divorce in 1990, the two were staples of the British tabloids. Brightman said that, if anything, it's easier now for them to work together, because she's had her own success.
As for the new CD, she said, "I just hope the music communicates to people on its own, what I'm about and what I do. I think the album is very true of me."
-- By Robert Viagas