A bright spark of talent

CALL IT unique artistic vision or simply creative chutzpah, but few artists would feature such disparate duet partners as Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Spanish vocalist Fernando Lima and Kiss' Paul Stanley on the same album.

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Published: Mon 14 Jan 2008, 11:37 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:07 PM

Yet that's exactly what mega-selling English soprano Sarah Brightman does on 'Symphony,' which arrives in stores on January 29 via Manhattan Records.

"I just wanted to back away from everything and do something a little different. That, of course, takes a little time," Brightman says of 'Symphony,' her first collection of new material in five years. "Sometimes you have to step back a little and create something new."

Innovation and reinvention have been trademarks of Brightman's 30-year career. Born in 1960, she began dancing at local festivals when she was only 3. By the time she was 16, she earned a spot in Pan's People, the resident dance troupe on BBC's 'Top of the Pops.' Her next step was as a member of progressive dance troupe and pop group Hot Gossip.

It was as lead singer for Hot Gossip that Brightman's recording career began with the 1978 hit 'I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trouper,' which propelled her to pop star status in the United Kingdom. Not content to reign on the pop charts, Brightman went on to forge a successful career in musical theatre, most notably originating the role of Christine in ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Phantom of the Opera' on the West End and later reprising the role on Broadway.

Crossover pioneer

As a recording artist, Brightman has covered a wide territory, including pop, dance, opera and classical music.

"She created this genre that we now call 'classical crossover' or 'pop opera,'" Manhattan Records GM Ian Ralfini says. She opened the door for other artists, including Bocelli, Hayley Westenra and Josh Groban. She was there first. Indeed, since 1997, Brightman has scored 11 top 10 albums on Billboard's Classical Crossover chart, including two No. 1s and three No. 2s. But she modestly downplays her role in the classical crossover boom, preferring to speak of her love for her art.

"I'm very passionate about my classical music," she says. "I've also had a lot of success in popular music, like pop music and dance music. I've also worked for many, many years in theatre. All these styles that I have worked within, especially in music theatre, created something very unique to me."

According to her label, Brightman has sold 26 million records worldwide. The best-selling soprano in history, she's earned more than 150 gold and platinum certifications in 34 countries. Among her most successful albums are 1998's 'Time to Say Goodbye,' which has sold 1.4 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan; the title track is the best-selling single in German music history.

For 'Symphony,' Brightman headed to Germany to record with longtime producer Frank Peterson. "This album has such a new twist to it," Brightman says. "It has classical qualities in it that I've always enjoyed, but it has a slightly dark quality. Within everything that happens in life, there's a heavenly side to it and then there's a dark side to it. I know it sounds fairly abstract, but when you go through the album, you get this feeling of heaven and hell within it"

More involved

And while five years may be a long time for the industry to wait, Brightman believes that the preparation time served the music well. "I was involved much more in the songs than I normally (am) because I had more time to do so," she says. "For the last four years, I've been going all over the world and doing concerts and I've done a movie recently (the April release 'Repo! The Genetic Opera'), which was great fun. So there have been lots of other things going on, but I did have lots more time to be involved in the writing side of it."

Has the turmoil and uncertainty in the world had an impact on her songwriting process? "Yes, of course it has," she says. "I think it has with a lot of people who are artists. It's very natural. All of those things are coming into our creative output because all human beings are touched by what is happening and they are becoming more and more aware."

In Peterson, Brightman has found a creative compatriot, skilled at helping the artist breathe life into the diversity of sounds that her repertoire comprises. "When you find collaborations with people that just work, they just work," she says, noting that she and Peterson have worked together so long they have developed a kind of shorthand between them. "I seem to be working with the same people for many, many years and relationships actually get better and the work becomes more deep because of it."

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