All about ‘Hymn’

In the realm of divas, few can compare to British crossover artist Sarah Brightman. Claiming the title of the world’s best-selling soprano, Brightman has been singing and performing from an early age. Her theatrical career began in the early 1980s when she was cast in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” which led her to become his muse (1986’s “The Phantom of the Opera”) and, for six years, his wife. Known for an otherworldly stage presence that is as ethereal as her crystalline soprano, Brightman, 58, has also had a successful recording career — releasing more than a dozen albums, including 1997’s “Timeless (Time to Say Goodbye),” which contained her biggest hit, the Andrea Bocelli duet “Time To Say Goodbye.” Her new album, “Hymn” (Decca), continues in the musical tradition she has established over the years, with a few twists, including “Miracle,” composed by Yoshiki, front man for the hard-rock band X Japan. She spoke to WAG prior to her Feb. 6 appearance at Radio City Musical Hall in Manhattan:

Your new album “Hymn” finds you reuniting with Frank Peterson, with whom you worked on albums in the 1990s and early 2000s. Why do you think that you and Frank work so well together?

“We argue continually, which is a good sign. Good art and good ideas often come from two people pulling and tugging and pushing against each other. I’m probably the more intricate one. He’s probably the more practical one. He has a huge knowledge and really good instincts. I probably don’t have either of those things, but I’m full of ideas and wonderment and fantasy. 

“I don’t conform to anything particularly and sometimes I need bringing in a little bit, which is good, because that’s being artistic. I think the mixture of those two things — and also Frank being a very good engineer for recordings and understanding whether what is in my head can be fulfilled — those elements coming together make what is a Sarah Brightman piece. That’s all I can explain at this moment, but it’s much more complex than that.”

One of the most fascinating songs on the album is “Miracle,” written by Yoshiki of the heavy metal band X Japan. What was it about “Miracle” that made you want to record it?

“I’ve known Yoshiki for a while. I did an opera movie called ‘Repo!,’ directed by Darren Bousman, who did some of the ‘Saw’ movies. He asked me to do the movie and he said we’ve got a great artist called Yoshiki who’s producing the music. He’s a famous rock artist. I said I know all about him with X Japan. He’s kind of like the Freddie Mercury of Japan, very inventive. I got to know Yoshiki at that time and we got on very well. We met a few times during the years since that movie to talk about different things and ideas. Finally, Frank and I went to him and asked if he had any ideas for this (new album). He said he’d been working on some contemporary classical pieces. He was playing piano beautifully and composing on piano. He said he had this piece called ‘Miracle,’ which he thought would be great for me because it’s very quiet with orchestra. He had a female singing the lead on the song when he performed at Carnegie Hall. 

“I listened to it and I told Frank I thought it was a great piece and that I would really like to try it out. It was quite a tricky one for me, because the song either requires a powerful, strong voice or it could go the other way and require one of those small, reedy voices. I’m kind of in between with my voice. I worked very carefully, crafting out of my voice what I felt complements this piece in both ways. Sometimes my voice is very rich and very full and sometimes it’s softer, like a siren. That was the result — a song full of hope about horizons. I’m very happy with it and I know Yoshiki is as well.”

Another stunning selection is your rendition of Ennio Morricone’s “Follow Me” from the 1962 version of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando. Why was that song selected for the album?

“The ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ piece was something that Frank and I really loved when we first started working together. It was a piece that we’d often discussed. Those beautiful, cinematic pieces that people always (have) within their hearts or subliminally know them because of the movies. This is a choir-oriented album. ‘Follow Me’ has that tropical choir sound that you hear in the movie (when) the islanders are singing together.”

You cover Paul Kalkbrenner’s “Sky and Sand,” a song that is popular with fans of electronic dance music. Do you know if there are plans for extended club remixes of your version in the works?

“There have been some made. I went and sang for a huge dance music festival in Germany. It’s one of the biggest. I went and opened it with that song. We did about three different versions that were more dance oriented. The version I have on the album is probably the more generic one of all the versions that I’ve done. I felt that for this album that would be the right one to include so that it would fit with everything else.”

Here in the U.S., country music is more popular than ever before. As an artist who has performed music from a variety of genres, do you think you might have a Nashville-style album in you?

“It’s interesting that you say that. I’ve sometimes thought about that. It’s a great idea, that one. Artistically and creatively, you can talk about something for years and not do it and then suddenly it’s the right time to do it as an artist. I’ve definitely thought about this kind of album.”

Put on some cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat and you’re all set. 

(Big laugh).

You are embarking on a multicity U.S. concert tour, including the performance at Radio City Music Hall this month. What can your fans expect from the “Hymn” tour?

“I’ve been filming a cinematic start-off, if you will, of these pieces. I learned a lot from doing this. We filmed it in Bavaria in a beautiful theater. What I learned is that if I’m to do the retrospective side of my work that people know and love me for years, I’ve decided to put them into one particular act and create scenes for them, almost like they’re on an operatic stage. I put a story behind them and threaded them all together. That will be the first half. The second half will be more like the usual type of concert you see with the choir behind me and the orchestra in front and me in the middle singing. With all of those voices behind me, it will be a wonderful outpouring of the album ‘Hymn.’ I’ve bathed the whole show in beautiful light design, because the album is about light and hope. I wanted people to get an extraordinary feeling from the light in it as well.”

How do you maintain your equilibrium over the course of performing more than 100 concerts, as you did in support of 2013’s “Dreamchaser” album?

“I never think about the amount of dates. I take everything day by day. Between albums and tours that I do, I do take a lot of time to work vocally with different singing coaches around the world, from opera and pop. I work with them so that my voice is strong and secure so I can take on, with energy, these kinds of tours that I do. I love traveling. For me, to travel from city to city with a group of wonderful creative people who are performing as well is actually a pleasure. I feel very privileged to do what I do. Yes, of course, it’s hard and you come back exhausted. But that doesn’t really happen until it’s all ended.”

Because so many people, especially those here in the states, first became aware of you through your work on the Broadway stage, do you think there might come a time when you would return to New York City in a new musical or revival production?

“Never say never. I can’t see it immediately now, but if something came up that felt right and I could fit into that glove, of course I would do it. I love film. I love theater. Any involvement in those areas is always a wonderful thing.”

Sarah Brightman performs Feb. 6 at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. For more, visit
musichall-ny.org.

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