Born on August 14, 1960 in Berkhampstead, England; daughter of Grenville (a real estate developer) and Paula (maiden name, Hall; a homemaker) Brightman; married Andrew Graham-Stewart (a band manager), c. 1978 (divorced 1983); married Andrew Lloyd Webber (a composer and theatrical producer), 1984 (divorced 1990). Education: Attended the Elmhurst Ballet School, Arts Educational School, and the Royal College of Music. Addresses: Agent--Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Website--Sarah Brightman Official Website: http://www.sarah-brightman.com.
English-born soprano Sarah Brightman enjoys a busy career as a performer of popular, classical, and theater music. She is one of the foremost interpreters of the work of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, to whom she was married for several years. Brightman's versatility well suited Lloyd Webber's music, which blends classical and pop rock styles. "Mr. Lloyd Webber has essentially re-invented operetta for the rock era. His big plummy melodies require operatically trained voices: refined but with enough heft and personality not to seem too thin when piercingly amplified. Ms. Brightman has a sweet, floating soprano with an unusually wide vibrato," wrote Stephen Holden in the New York Times.
Brightman was born on August 14, 1960, in Berkhampstead, England, the oldest of six children of Grenville Brightman, a real estate developer, and Paula Hall Brightman, a homemaker. Brightman's mother, who had given up a career as a dancer after her marriage, pointed her oldest child towards a performing career early on. At age three Brightman began ballet lessons and her formal education took place at special schools for children involved with the performing arts. Brightman considers her childhood a happy one and does not think she was pushed against her will into a life in show business. "From my first dancing lesson at the age of three, I always worked extremely hard. My mother saw there was something in me that needed to perform. I don't think my parents interfered in my personality at all," she told the Daily Telegraph.
At age 12, Brightman had a part in the West End musical I and Albert, a work by composer Charles Strouse about the life of Queen Victoria. As a teenager she performed with the dance troupe Pan's People, and was lead singer in the rock group, Hot Gossip, which had a British top ten disco-tinged hit called "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper" in 1978. "My career in a way started in pop. I had hits in England, singles, and in Europe when I was a teenager and it petered out because it was a fashionable thing and punk came in and that was the end of Sarah's career. So, I went back into musical theater," Brightman explained to CNN's Showbiz Today.
Found Her Place in the Theater
A perfectionist and self-described "workaholic," Brightman continued dance and voice training in order to expand her talent. In 1980 she tried out for a role in the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. It seemed an odd career move for the relatively well-known Brightman but she was more interested in gaining valuable experience than in retaining celebrity for its own sake. Andrew Lloyd Webber told People, "I remember thinking 'Why is Sarah Brightman auditioning for what is essentially an ensemble production?' We were all terribly intrigued, but we were also delighted." Brightman landed the part of the cat Jemimah. "I was chosen because I could hit that high note at the beginning of the second half. Basically, though, I was a dancer," Brightman told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The now legendary Cats opened in London in October of 1981. During her 18 months with the show, Brightman became romantically involved with Lloyd Webber, who is 13 years her senior. Their relationship was complicated by the fact that both were married. In the late 1970s, Brightman had wed band manager Andrew Graham Stewart; Lloyd Webber had been married for several years to the former Sarah Hugill with whom he had two small children. After obtaining divorces, Brightman and Lloyd Webber married in March of 1984. The secret ceremony took place on the day that Lloyd Webber's musical Starlight Express was scheduled to open in London. That evening Lloyd Webber proudly introduced his new young wife to numerous dignitaries attending the glittering premiere, including Queen Elizabeth.
In 1985, Brightman recorded Lloyd Webber's classical work, Requiem, with famed tenor Placido Domingo. She had a hit single in Britain with Requiem's "Pie Jesu" soprano solo. "Pie Jesu" remains one of Brightman's favorite Lloyd Webber works and she includes it in her concert appearances. "I love the piece. It's religious, spiritual, but difficult to sing. It's a peaceful moment. I always feel grounded when I do it," she told the Los Angeles Times. Requiem had its public premiere in February of 1985 at New York City's St. Thomas Church with Brightman and Domingo again taking the leads. Andrew Porter of the New Yorker wrote that Lloyd Webber's Requiem "is not exactly a distinguished piece of music, but it is a 'felt' work and an honest one. The effects are obvious, but they are effective ... Miss Brightman has a natural, steady production and a fine way of placing words on an unforced stream of tone. She sounded better in the church's warm acoustics than she does on the record."
The Phantom of the Opera
Brightman and Lloyd Webber's most celebrated collaboration was The Phantom of the Opera, a musical version of Gaston Leroux's 1911 potboiler novel about a hideously deformed genius who guides a chorus girl, Christine Daae, to opera stardom. The show opened in London in October of 1986, after much pre-opening ballyhoo and advance ticket sales. "In all the pre-publicity the weakest part always seemed to be the casting of Lloyd Webber's new wife Sarah Brightman as the central character. Putting a pretty but rather vacuous seeming minor singer in such a huge role seemed like grand folly: shades of Susan Alexander and Charles Foster Kane. In fact Sarah Brightman's performance is a pleasant surprise. Her voice is still a little thin and bloodless but she has obviously been in the hands of the very best teachers. Her doll-like looks suit the period and she projects a vulnerable confusion perfectly appropriate to her role as innocent victim," wrote Mary Harron in the New Statesman.
Lloyd Webber wrote the part of Christine Daae specifically for Brightman and he insisted that she repeat the role in the New York production. American Actor's Equity, a labor union representing American performers, objected, claiming that Brightman was not an "international star" or a "unique talent" and could not be exempt from union rules requiring American Equity members to be cast in American productions. After Lloyd Webber threatened to cancel the Broadway production entirely, Equity caved in and permitted Brightman to perform in exchange for an American performer being given the opportunity to work in England. Echoing the reaction of their British counterparts, American theater critics dismissed The Phantom of the Opera as overly hyped spectacle but most had to admit to finding the lavish production entertaining. Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote that "it may be possible to have a terrible time at The Phantom of the Opera, but you'll have to work at it. Only a terminal prig would let the avalanche of pre-opening publicity poison his enjoyment of this show, which usually wants nothing more than to shower the audience with fantasy and fun ... the icily attractive Ms. Brightman possesses a lush soprano by Broadway standards (at least as amplified)."
The Equity brouhaha contributed to the sense that Brightman's career was dependent on her personal relationship with Lloyd Webber. But she dismissed this notion, stating, "I always made my mark as Sarah Brightman ... I am not saying I am the greatest thing since the world began but I obviously do my work fairly well to have got as far as I have. I had, you know, as strong a career as I could have had by the age of twenty before I met Lloyd Webber," she told the Sunday Telegraph. She also points out that the casting decision in regard to the role of Christine was a collective one with Phantom's director Hal Prince and producer Cameron Mackintosh having had a say in the matter.
Despite their professional success together, Brightman and Lloyd Webber's marriage foundered and the couple divorced in 1990. Differences in regard to lifestyle are said to have been the primary reason behind the split. Brightman's career-mindedness and casual tastes conflicted with Lloyd Webber's desire for an elegant and acquisitive existence centered around his large estate outside London, Sydmonton, which is decorated with an impressive collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. "I was never the lady of the manor type. At the end of the day I was always Sarah. I fell in love with a man who was in the process of acquiring all that and things just went crazy," Brightman told the Evening Standard, adding that "I'm not that interested in material possessions. I'd rather enjoy myself and feel contented and fulfilled." In the divorce settlement, Brightman was awarded several million pounds. With her career flourishing, Brightman says she has never spent a penny of the settlement money and has even offered to return it to Lloyd Webber. "He wouldn't take it," Brightman told the Daily Telegraph.
Relationship with Lloyd Webber Continued
However, divorce did not end Brightman and Lloyd Webber's professional association. "We're great friends. We work together well, and we enjoy working together. We find that for people working with music it's about creating. It's like a responsibility for me to take a creation and put it forth to people. The relationship, what's happened in the past, is not important enough to spoil the creativity," Brightman explained to the Los Angeles Times.
In October of 1996, at a celebration for the tenth anniversary of the London production of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theater, Lloyd Webber played piano as Brightman sang one of the show's big numbers "Music of the Night." Later in the evening, Lloyd Webber told the New York Times that "this has been a very difficult night for me in a way. It's a piece I absolutely love and I found myself playing for the person that inspired it. I didn't think we would ever be on the same stage again."
While their divorce was pending in the autumn of 1990, Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn, asked Brightman, who had just completed a concert tour, to take over the lead in the Broadway production of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love. The part called for Brightman to play Rose, a worldly French actress involved in an affair with a younger man. The character ages 17 years during the course of the story. When the show was in its development stages, Brightman had been considered too young to play Rose and another performer, Ann Crumb, originated the part in both London and New York. However, the travails of life had added some maturity to Brightman's jejune looks and mannerisms. "Through doing the concerts and traveling around, I've had more experience as a person to deal with a complex role like this ... I suppose I play myself a lot of the time," Brightman told Newsday. After the close of the Broadway production of Aspects of Love, Brightman took over the part of Rose in the long-running London production.
During her time with Aspects of Love in London, Brightman's father committed suicide. Yet the tragedy did not prevent Brightman from going through with that evening's performance. "Sarah insisted on going on tonight. We all react to personal tragedies in different ways. Sarah is a total professional, very dedicated to her job," theater company manager Jools Gardner told the Daily Mail. Her father suffered from depression and his death did not come as a total surprise. "His suicide was something I may have been waiting for for a long time," Brightman told the Daily Telegraph in 1997.
In 1992, Brightman made her debut in the non-musical theater with a London revival of Arthur Wing Pinero's turn of the century play Trelawny of the Wells. Her co-stars included Michael Hordern and Helena Bonham-Carter. Producer Duncan Weldon offered the part to Brightman after seeing her in Aspects of Love. "It had been a secret dream of mine to do a straight play and I told him [Weldon] so. He was already thinking of Trelawny and so the opportunity was there," Brightman explained to the Evening Standard. Brightman has studied acting for years and would like some day to take on classic parts in plays by Ibsen, Chekhov, and Shaw.
Since 1993, Brightman has been romantically involved with Frank Peterson, a record producer based in Hamburg, Germany. Spending time in Germany made the ever-ambitious Brightman realize the increasing importance of the continental European market in regard to international record sales. To establish herself in Germany, she sang the sweepingly emotional song "Time to Say Goodbye" on German television in November of 1996 before a prizefight involving the popular boxer Henry Maske. A duet with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, the song quickly went to top of the German charts.
Left the Stage for a Solo Career
Brightman released at least one album a year for the next several years. In 1997, Timeless was released; in 1998, Eden; in 2000, La Luna; Encore in 2001; and Harem in 2003. She hasn't performed in the theater since the early 1990s, and doesn't seem eager to return to the Broadway stage any time soon. Speaking to Tim Pulice for a Borders Books interview, Brightman revealed why she is happier performing as a solo singer rather than on a stage: "I'm so creative in what I do, I'm very hands-on for my concerts and my albums. I don't think I really want to go back [to the theater]--for the moment anyways--as an employed person in a show."
Brightman's 2003 release Harem earned her even more global fame and recognition. Her vocals and the lush orchestration provided by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra (among others) were woven together to create an album of haunting, Middle-East inspired music. The album also featured Iraqi-born pop singer Kazem al-Sahir. Pulice stated: "Brightman ... ventures into new sonic territory" with Harem. Proclaiming the music "opulent" and Brightman's voice "exquisite," he had nothing but praise for her far-reaching album.
Brightman's genre-hopping, global approach to music stems from Brightman's childhood in Europe, where she and her family traveled frequently around the continent. "Music has been such a force in my life, and I've really enjoyed all sides of it, but I've never wanted to categorize myself," Brightman confessed to Billboard reporter Doug Reece.
by Mary Kalfatovic
Sarah Brightman's Career
Lead singer in the rock group Hot Gossip, which had the British top ten hit "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper," 1978; joined the cast of Cats, which opened in London, 1981; recorded Requiem with Placido Domingo, 1985; collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the London debut of The Phantom of the Opera, 1986; released solo debut album The Trees They Grow So High, 1988; made non-musical theater debut in Trelawny of the Wells, 1992; released Dive, 1993; released Fly, 1995; released Eden, 1998; released La Luna, 2000; released Harem, 2003.
Sarah Brightman's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Composition for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem (with Placido Domingo), 1985; Echo Award (Germany), Best Song for "Time To Say Goodbye," 1998; Golden Lion Award (Germany), Best Live Performance, 1998; Goldene Europa (Germany), Best Female Artist, 1998; UNESCO Hand-in-Hand Award, 1998.
- Selected discography
- The Trees They Grow So High: British Folksong Arrangements EMI, 1988.
- Songs That Got Away Polygram, 1989.
- As I Came of Age Polydor, 1990.
- Sarah Brightman Sings the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber Polydor, 1992.
- Dive A&M, 1993.
- Fly East-West, 1995.
- Surrender Really, 1996.
- Eden Angel, 1998.
- La Luna Angel, 2000.
- Harem EMI, 2003.
- Billboard, April 4, 1998, p. 72.
- Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1995, p. C20.
- Daily Mail (London, England), February 26, 1992, p. 1.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 9, 1997, p. 19.
- Dallas Morning News, May 3, 1997, p. 41A.
- Evening Standard (London, England), November 13, 1992, pp. 26-27.
- Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1995, p. 3.
- Opera News, June 1988, p. 32; December 24, 1988, p. 45.
- New Republic, March 14, 1988, p. 34.
- Newsday (Long Island, NY), December 26, 1990, p. 74.
- New Statesman, October 17, 1986, p. 26.
- New York, February 8, 1988, p. 89.
- New Yorker, March 11, 1985, p. 112; February 8, 1988, pp. 97-98.
- New York Times, March 3, 1986, pp. 115-116; January 27, 1988, p. 19; July 23, 1990, pp. 55, 58.
- Press Association Newsfile, October 7, 1994, Home News section.
- Reuters News Wire, December 11, 2003.
- San Diego Union-Tribune, July 30, 1989, p. E1.
- Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), May 24, 1996, p. 22.
- Sunday Telegraph (London, England), January 5, 1992, p. 103.
- Time, February 8, 1988, p. 83.
- "Musical Oasis: Sarah Brightman Discusses Her Newest Work," Borders, http://www.bordersstores.com/features/feature.jsp?file=/sarahbrightman (December 17, 2003).
- "Sarah Brightman," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 17, 2003).
- Sarah Brightman Official Website, http://www.sarah-brightman.com (December 17, 2003).