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Issue Date: December 2008


The Bright Side

An unconventional Christmas album and a film debut show a different side of Sarah.
by Lynne Thompson
Sarah Brightman is a musical chameleon, a woman who started her career by releasing disco singles, made a name for herself in ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber’sPhantom of the Opera and went on to work with everyone from tenor Jose Carreras to Kiss vocalist and guitarist Paul Stanley. So it’s surprising to hear the world-famous British soprano express unbridled enthusiasm about something as common as recording a Christmas album.

“I wasdesperateto do one, and now I’ve done it!” the 48-year-old Brightman says cheerfully as she sits in a Hamburg, Germany, studio, where she’s putting the final touches onA Winter Symphony and preparing for a world tour (which includes a stop at Quicken Loans Arena Dec. 2). “Ilove Christmas. I wanted to make an album with pieces that I really loved, [that showed] how I really felt about Christmas.”

A Winter Symphony, however, is not your average compilation of carols. “Silent Night” and the pop counterparts “I Believe in Father Christmas” and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” are mixed with such disparate selections as “Amazing Grace,” “Ave Maria” and a vocal rendition of the Abba instrumental “Arrival.” And not all of the songs express holiday cheer. Brightman covers Neil Diamond’s introspective hit “I’ve Been This Way Before” and Vince Gill’s lament of failed love, “Colder Than Winter.”

“There is a poignancy at this time of year — there is suffering in the world, and there is human fragility,” Brightman explains. “It’s a time to think about that.”

Her feature film debut,Repo! The Genetic Opera, which opened last month, stands in stark contrast to the CD’s musical magic. The movie, described as a “futuristic horror rock-opera,” is set in a world where an epidemic of human organ failures has spawned a biotech company offering organs for transplant — organs that are repossessed when recipients miss their payments. Brightman plays a blind singer who regains her sight alongside the likes of Paul Sorvino and Paris Hilton. While the film seems like an unlikely vehicle for Brightman’s talents, the self-described movie buff says she took the part because she liked the work of director Darren Lynn Bousman, known for theSaw series.

“When he described the part in the story to me, I said, ‘You know, I think I should do this. It feels like me,’ ” she recalls. “It was great. I was playing my age. I was playing a part that I knew how to play — you know, I’m playing the part of a classical singer. And it was a serious role, somebody who knows that they are about to die but wants to do something to help a situation.”

While many established artists voice a dislike of touring, Brightman doesn’t seem to mind it. She describes herself as a nomad who lives wherever work takes her.

“It’s a bit like that going-to-school thing — you know that once you get into it, it’s absolutely fine, and you have a good time,” she says of life on the road. “I just pack my bags and say, ‘OK, I’m off on another travel.’ ”

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