Recognized as one of the world’s most prominent performers, international singing star Sarah Brightman visits Ocean Casino Resort’s Ovation Hall 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.
Brightman’s 12th studio album, “Hymn,” released in November 2018, reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Classical Crossover Albums and overall Classical Albums charts, making Brightman the only female artist to reach that milestone on both charts at the same time. Her latest tour, entitled “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony,” combines classic holiday songs with some of her own international hits. In advance of her Atlantic City show, she recently spoke by phone from her native England with the host of “Off The Press with Scott Cronick,” which airs 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WOND 1400-AM, 92.3-FM radio.
SCOTT CRONICK: Sarah will be coming to Atlantic City and doing something a little different this time, something I don’t remember her doing before, and that is performing a Christmas show. We all love Christmas shows as we get closer to the season. The show is called “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony.” Before we dig into all of that, Sarah, how has the European tour gone for you, especially coming out of having been locked down for so long with the pandemic?
SARAH BRIGHTMAN: Well, first of all I’d like to say to everybody that I hope they’ve managed to get through this nasty time we’ve all been going through worldwide, and that their families are safe, and I wish everybody lots of love and lots of hope as well. In London, everything is almost completely back to normal now. Theaters are open and full, nobody is getting sick from it, and I know the United States is a little bit behind because they’ve gotten the virus a bit later than us, so I want to try to reassure everyone that it’s going to be alright.
But even during lockdown, in various countries in Europe, we’ve had periods during the summer where nobody was locked down, so I was very lucky to have been able to go over to Paris and do a lot of TV over there and promote a French album that I released that did very well. So, I feel very, very grateful for that, and the reason I’m doing this Christmas show is because I’ve always wanted to do one. Last Christmas, when everyone was locked down everywhere, I thought it would be nice to do a streaming show, just to keep myself happy and to employ some musicians, since nobody was being employed, and do it free for my fans and anyone who wanted to listen. So, we put together this show and did it in a beautiful, old, empty church in London. After we streamed it, it had an overwhelming response, so I thought well maybe, if everything is alright at the end of this year, I should do that again, and take it out on tour as a two-hour Christmas show. And here we are. I’m really looking forward to coming to the states again.
SC: That’s really amazing. I just traveled as well, and it is discouraging that in the United States we did kind of lag behind and are just catching up, and it became somewhat of a political football. I’m not asking you to get involved in that whole thing, but are you finding that, as you travel, people just want to get out and are maybe appreciating the live experience even more than ever, just because we didn’t have it for so long?
SB: Well, that’s it. You’re completely right. And when there were some periods when we were not locked down, at the end of last summer, I went up to a town called Buxton, and what we call the Buxton Festival in the lovely county of Derbyshire. I went to see some night music in a little opera house there, and it was packed. Everyone was sitting there very politely with their masks on, and at the end I saw something that I had never seen before. Nearly the whole audience burst into tears. It came as such a relief to people to be back doing what they love to do, watching the arts in a communal way. And, so I think, apart from this time and what we all went through, that people never realized what an important part the arts are to them. They gained a better appreciation and realized that the arts feed the soul in some sort of way. Without music and art and all of those things, I think our lives would be very bereft. It really got to the point of people being desperate to get out and enjoy theater and concerts and all these types of things again.
SC: And how has that lockdown affected that beautiful, angelic voice that we’ve enjoyed in so many different things, whether it’s theatrical stage shows or Broadway musicals and so many other things — how did you keep that musical instrument in tune?
SB: Well, when all this started to happen I thought, “How could I continue to be useful to myself and others?” So, my mother is getting rather elderly and unable to hear very well at this point, and I began caring for her on weekends and traveling down to the south of England to do her shopping for her, get her medical supplies, those sort of things. One week, I asked my singing coach if she would be interested in going into a bubble with me, where we could meet each other and actually have singing-coaching sessions live, not online, and she said, yes, she’d be very happy to do that. So, we did that and, consequently, I’ve had a real reboot of my voice, which has been great. I wound up not wasting any time with that, and my voice right now feels better and fresher than it has in a long time. Of course, when you’re running around and touring, you don’t get a whole lot of time to re-train and look at the things that may be going wrong, with another person’s ears. For me, I kind of made it work for myself.
SC: Sarah, when “Hymn” came out in 2018, were you able to tour that album, and will we hear any of that material on this tour, or is this strictly a Christmas show? Is it just Christmas music or will you weave things in and out throughout your career?
SB: I’ll weave things in and out from my career. On this show I did a lot of research because Christmas actually is a very emotional time of year for a lot of people, and you kind of have to click all the boxes to keep everybody happy. There are a lot of people who might come to a Christmas show who are not necessarily Christians. They just want to hear some really fun music and get into the festive mood and everything. So, it’s a complete mixture of things. Obviously for my deeper fans I’ve got a few hits lined up, and I took two or three pieces from “Hymn” that fit in with the Christmas spirit. And I’ve got some beautiful, religious pieces that I think will be enjoyed by the audience. There will be a lot of orchestral and choir music, because when people think of Christmas, they think of choir singing. It’s a complete mixture of things that should give you the whole feeling of the spirit of Christmas, having fun, feeling sacred, all of those things.
SC: You’re 100 percent right, and I haven’t really thought of that impact of Christmas. My father died of COVID last year. The first anniversary of his death was Thanksgiving weekend, and while that certainly was on my mind, Christmas weekend is going to have an even deeper impact. That first Christmas without a parent or a loved one is so meaningful, so you’re 100 percent right, and music like yours is going to reach inside someone’s soul at times like that. I can imagine that as an artist in a live performance, that must mean a lot for you, to be able to touch people in ways like that.
SB: I’m so sorry (for the loss of your father). That’s the thing, though. All of us, as artists, have conversations with each other, and what we’ve realized through this time is that, although you have to be somewhat selfish and self-centered and give 100 percent to be able to do things wonderfully, we’re also about giving, and if we’re unable to give our gift out to other people, we really suffer. So, it’s a great joy to be able to go and make an audience kind of release and escape everyday life for those few hours that they come out to see a performance. We all realize this, and in a way we’re all caretakers of the soul, as artists.
SC: Forgive me if I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think you’ve ever done a full Christmas album, have you, Sarah?
SB: I did what I would call a more seasonal album.
SC: Was that the “Winter Symphony” album (released in 2008)?
SB: Yes, that one, but you’re completely right, I have not done (an exclusively Christmas album) yet.
SC: Could this tour possibly inspire you to do that?
SB: Yes, what I’m hoping for with this tour, what I would love to do — because I love Christmas; it’s a very important time of year for myself and all of my family — so my hope is that if this goes well, we can extend it and maybe do it each year in different places in the world, and maybe invite more artists and different artists as we go along, maybe turn it into more of a spectacular in the end that people enjoy each year.
SC: So, when we talk about the Christmas music — and I love it, it’s one of my favorite things as well, particularly hearing it from your beautiful voice — but there’s just so much material out there, so many Christmas songs that touch people’s hearts and touch yours. How do go about selecting the 10 or so songs that you might sing on this tour, or what you’re going to record? Does it come from your childhood, does it come from things you’ve experienced along the way? How do you decide which songs from such a rich catalog to pick from?
SB: Well, you’re completely right, and it’s been quite overwhelming, but at the end of the day, and depending on the person you are and how your voice is, how your spirit is, it’s very important to pick pieces that you can do, first of all, and also those that touch your spirit, that you’re passionate about. Because when an audience comes to see an artist, there’s an element of enjoying who that artist is, and what their spirit is like. Obviously if they’re hearing music that the artist really enjoys, they truly are getting a part of that artist. So that’s how I choose the pieces. There are those that I feel very passionate about, and other ones that suit my voice.
SC: And there’s the other thing where Christmas in England is totally different from Christmas in the United States. That song that we started off the show with, “I Believe in Father Christmas,” is a song by Greg Lake (of the British supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer) that is actually a song about protesting the commercialization of Christmas, right? Here in the United States, we’re not that aware of that song, so that’s part of the balancing act too, right? Why did you choose that song?
SB: I chose it because, going back in time, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, one of their albums, “Brain Salad Surgery,” was the first album I ever bought. So, this piece, it’s just always affected me very greatly any time I’ve listened to it at this time of year. And I just found it a very clever song that I believe sparks all sorts of different feelings in people when they listen to it. So, I just thought it was a great piece to do. Also, musically, it’s really good as well.
SC: That’s a way better first album to buy than what my first album was to buy.
SB: What was your first album?
SC: I was 8 or 9 years old and I saw (the musical film) “Grease” and fell in love with Olivia Newton-John. I bought the “Let’s Get Physical” album because I think she was wearing tight pants, and I had a crush on her.
SB: (Laughing). Well, that’s a very good reason to buy an album! That’s very sweet.
SC: The good news for you, Sarah, and I know you’ve played in some amazing venues around the world, but this is the nicest venue in Atlantic City. It was actually designed by the same people who design all the Cirque du Soleil theaters, and I think it’s going to fit you and your voice perfectly. I think you’re really going to enjoy the acoustics. But just out of curiosity, where is the greatest place for you to perform? In the past you’ve been here at Boardwalk Hall, which is OK but doesn’t have that powerful feeling that you might get from other venues around the world. What’s special for you? Where is your favorite place to perform?
SB: You know, it’s difficult because there are so many amazing theaters and venues to play in the United States, many that are extraordinary, but I had a very interesting and beautiful experience performing at the Opera House in Buenos Aires, in Argentina. It was amazing. They kept this building so exactly as it was originally built, to the point that people are not allowed to even touch certain things. It’s beautiful. It’s like a museum.
SC: Sarah, I know we have to wrap things up, but what’s next for you? I know you have a show coming up on PBS called “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony” that will be broadcast throughout the United States during the holiday season. What else is new with you — any recordings coming our way or anything else that you’d like to share that we can look out for?
SB: Well, there are some very interesting things that I can’t talk about yet.
SC: You’re going to tease us a little bit?
SB: I’m going to tease you, exactly.
SC: I’ll never forget the first time I saw your show. It was at Trump Taj Mahal, which is now Hard Rock Atlantic City, and it was such a theatrical experience. I remember you with these giant gowns and costumes, and I believe you were suspended in the air — at least that’s the memory I have; it was quite a while ago — so what is this tour like from that aspect? You always like to bring it not just with your voice, but from a theatrical side. What are we going to witness?
SB: It’s very beautiful. The costumes — I like to wear runway pieces, if I can — and the beauty of this Christmas, I suppose because all of the top fashion designers wanted to do costumes that were very exuberant, because they knew that people were just desperate to wear pretty things again instead of running around their house in their leggings and T-shirts or whatever. So luckily for me, I’ve got some incredible runway pieces for the show that are absolutely beautiful. They’ve got sequins, they’ve got feathers, they’re glamourous, and there are some that are beautifully demure in their glamour as well. It’s a simple set but it’s extremely effective because I’ve got a lighting designer that’s going to really capture all the moves in light of Christmas, be it spiritual, be it fun, be it colorful, be it traditional — all of those things.
Interview Transcribed by RAY SCHWEIBERT