STARS IN HER EYES...
Sarah Brightman, one of the world’s most popular sopranos, is back with her first album in five years. She talks to LUCY MAPSTONE about new record Hymn and what it means to her, and why she is still hoping to go into space
THREE years after pulling out of her planned trip to the International Space Station, Sarah Brightman still hopes to go into space. The British soprano raised more than a few eyebrows in 2012 when she unveiled her plan to make the intergalactic excursion and she underwent extensive training at a top facility just outside Moscow.
She was due to blast off in a Russian Soyuz rocket on an orbital tourist flight in September 2015, and would perform a song chosen by ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber, but she stepped down from the mission several months beforehand for “personal family reasons”.
The experience had quite an impact on Sarah, whose new album was a reaction to everything she went through, and she’s not drawn a line under her childhood dream to – quite literally – get out of this world just yet.
“I didn’t have any choice but to pull out,” she reflects.
She confesses she still can’t really talk about why she had to stand down, but adds: “It was nothing to do with me.
“I talked with my family very deeply about it and my mother wasn’t very happy at all. So we just made the decision...” she trails off, before continuing: “It’s not that I won’t go later, but at the moment I’m just letting things go and I’m concentrating on my own things.
“But I never say never with these things. There was a reason why I was there and why I passed all the tests in Russia. It was very challenging for me, but it was an amazing experience.
So it’s not one that I can just put aside completely. It’s part of my life.”
Out of everything that happened came Hymn, her first record in five years and a return to the more classical, operatic stylings that she is known for.
“I’d come off the space programme in Russia and I needed to ground myself,” Sarah explains.
“Everything has been quite challenging – not that I failed in any way – and I needed to find somewhere that I could just sing.”
She recalls finding a beach and working with an old friend, an opera coach, “so I could get back to myself”, before talking to long-time producer Frank Peterson, who encouraged her to work with choirs.
“He asked me what was on my mind at the moment, and I said that I just wanted to work on things that really make me happy, full of hope and light and that I want to work with lots of human voices,” she says.
“We started researching into choirs and we came across loads of things until we came up with Hymn. There are choirs from all corners of the world on there.”
She adds: “Often, when you’re working on opera pieces, teachers will suggest getting everybody singing together in harmony as a warm-up. It gets everybody going and you realise, when you’re all singing together, that there’s a natural thread through all of us as human beings. Choirs are incredibly uplifting.”
Of the overall feel and theme of the album, Sarah refers to her younger days.
“I wanted something that reminded me of a peaceful childhood. Not that there are Christian songs on there, but pieces that highlight the feelings I felt when I was singing in church in a choir. Our job as artists is to let everybody escape for a while.”
The idea of sharing uplifting music is important to Sarah, 58, who cut her teeth in the industry in dance troupes Pan’s People and Hot Gossip in the 1970s.
Her career has taken an extraordinary number of turns, from an early disco-singing stint with hits such as I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper, to making a name for herself as a stage star in the original London production of Cats and then later as Christine in the first production of The Phantom Of The Opera by her then-husband Lord Lloyd Webber.
Following her stage career, she scored success as a classical crossover artist, further propelling her into the international market with a number of albums, which have sold millions of copies, and hit songs, including Time To Say Goodbye with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
Among her countless concerts across the world, one of her most memorable career moments happened in 2008 when she found herself at the biggest gig of her life – performing at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics to an estimated global audience of four billion people.
“Of course I was nervous,” she laughs. “I just enjoyed every second of it, and then my nerves went away completely. I felt so lucky to be there and it was such a joyous time.”
Currently, Sarah is happy about the release of her new album.
Despite the five-year gap between her last record Dreamchaser, inspired by her space-going efforts, she is in no way considering slowing down as an artist.
“If you’re born with a talent, which I was ... I mean, from the age of three I was communicating through singing and also I was a natural at the piano, it was obvious that this is what I was going to do,” she explains, when asked about how her passion continues after all these years.
“It identifies you,” she reflects, adding: “If you have this deep connection with music within your body both physically and psychologically, it’s something you have to keep doing. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t do it.”
Taking a step back from performing is also not currently an option for Sarah because she is in the middle of a 125-date world tour.
“I don’t look at how many shows I’m doing,” she quips, keeping the sheer number of gigs in her near future at a distance.
However, she is clearly more honoured than daunted at the prospect of another huge tour.
“The amazing thing is that people bother to buy a ticket to come to your concert, make all that effort, and that in itself is a huge adrenaline-giver,” she admits.
“I feel very, very privileged that I am in this position, so I give it my everything, every time.”
Looking forward to a time when she may, inevitably, have to take a step back, Sarah considers briefly, before explaining: “Obviously we get older and some humans who are singers, they don’t necessarily want the connection of singing outwards anymore. I suppose if I didn’t perform anymore, I could go into writing, or composing or conducting, later in life.” She adds: “I’m never really worried about getting older in that way.”
Hopefully, before then, Sarah will finally get to realise her childhood dream of launching into space to sing an aria or two in front of perhaps her biggest global audience ever.
Sarah Brightman Sarah in 2015, the year she was due to go into space
Sarah and ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber pictured in 1991
Sarah performing in 2008
■ Sarah Brightman’s album Hymn (left) is out now.