Singer Sarah Brightman tells of her plan to record a song in space
Not content with conquering the musical world, Sarah Brightman talks to Liana Cafolla about her plan to record a song in space
British classical crossover singer Sarah Brightman's latest album, Dreamchaser, is closely connected to what's happening in her life at the moment. On top of her to-do list, the youthful 53-year-old says, is preparing to travel into space next year with Space Adventures, a US-based space tourism company.
The soprano signed up in 2012 to be part of a three-person team that will travel to the International Space Station on board a Soyuz rocket. She will orbit the earth 16 times a day on the eight-day trip. While there, she plans to become the first professional musician to record a song from space. In preparation, she has been undergoing extensive medical tests and training. Brightman will return to Hong Kong for a concert this Thursday as part of a of a world tour that also takes in venues on the mainland, in Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. The set list will include both pieces from Dreamchaser and some old favourites.
"It's been great fun integrating pieces from the new album, which were very much inspired by my training and everything that I'm doing at the moment in my own life - going to space and going up to the International Space Station," she says. "Because of that inspiration, it's helped us with our past pieces and also the pieces from the Dreamchaser album to change arrangements, to make them thread together in a better way, and of course it's the same artist singing everything."
The singer has performed here on several previous occasions. This will be the fourth time, she thinks. "I love Hong Kong, it's a wonderful, wonderful city," she says, speaking in the perfectly enunciated voice that is her trademark. "Everything about it is completely different to where I come from. It's always exciting for me, the buzz of being in the city and performing. I love Chinese food, so I always eat very well when I'm there."
The eldest of six children, her interest in space, Brightman says, was sparked by her father when she was a child growing up in Berkhamsted, a picturesque town located to the northwest of London. As an eight-year-old she watched on TV as Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon in 1969. It made a lasting impression on her, inspiring her to think outside the box and making her determined to do whatever was necessary to achieve her ambitions.
Brightman is often credited with pioneering the classical crossover genre and is famed for having a vocal range of more than three octaves. She has sold more than 30 million records worldwide, garnering more than 180 gold and platinum awards in the process, and is the only singer to have sung the theme song at two Olympic Games - in 2008 at the opening of the Beijing games, when she sang in Putonghua in a duet with Liu Huan, and in 1992 in a duet with Spanish tenor José Carreras at the closing ceremony of the Barcelona games.
Brightman's latest album - her 11th - was released in April last year and made it to the top of the classical crossover album chart and to third place on the independent album chart. As impressive at that sounds, it isn't unusual given the extensive list of awards and firsts that makes up the soprano's three-decade career.
The singer has achieved all the trappings of a stellar career, but not without some disappointments along the way. She traces the roots of her singing career to a hearing defect that made her "quite deaf" when she was a child.
Luckily, it didn't affect her ability to sing. At the age of three she started taking dance and piano classes, attended a performing arts school from the age of 11 and made her theatrical debut aged 13 in a musical playing one of Queen Victoria's daughters.
At 16, she moved into television, joining the popular Pan's People dance troupe in 1976 before taking the lead role in dance group Hot Gossip - at the time they were one of the most sexually suggestive and scantily clad acts to make it big on prime time British television. Five years later, she landed the role of Jemima in the hit musical Cats and moved into a career in musicals where she would cement her success.
After reading rave reviews of her performance, composer and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber went to see her perform. Smitten by both her singing ability and by the girl herself, he began to write musicals and parts specifically for her, most notably the lead role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera. The opera opened to a media frenzy in 1986 and album sales, through various incarnations - original cast recording, foreign-language recordings, studio recordings and the film soundtrack - exceed 40 million. Causing a widely reported scandal at the time, Lloyd Webber left his wife and children to marry Brightman in 1984, but the marriage fell apart after six years. However, the two remain friends and still work together occasionally.
In recent years her career has become even more demanding and multifaceted. As a Unesco Artist for Peace, she plans to use her upcoming space trip to promote peace and sustainable development to safeguard the earth's future. She also wants to use the trip to encourage girls to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and maths, and is vocal about encouraging people to achieve their goals.
Her own successes leave her humbled, she says. "It amazes me always - when I have moments to sit and reflect on what I do and what's happening to me at this moment - how lucky I am in many ways and that I've had the strength to keep carrying through," she says. "It's a beautiful life. It's quite tough sometimes and quite tiring, but I love it and I feel extremely lucky," says Brightman.
Now, there is just space left to conquer.
Sarah Brightman, Thur, Jan 23, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Expo, Lantau