Though it’s been five years since Sarah Brightman has released a studio album — 2013’s Classical chart-topper Dreamchaser — the world’s best-selling soprano has hardly been idle. Not only did Brightman perform over 100 concerts on five continents to support Dreamchaser, she also brought her Gala — An Evening with Sarah Brightman tour to Asia and Mexico in 2016 and the 22-date Royal Christmas Gala tour to Europe in 2017. For both, she performed songs from her most-beloved albums — Timeless, Eden, and La Luna, and the multi-platinum soundtrack to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on Broadway in 2018. Webber was inspired to write the role of Christine Daaé for Brightman — who was already well-known after releasing several hit singles as a solo artist — upon seeing her standout performance as Jemima in the original London cast of Cats. After great success on the musical stage, Brightman decided to make a fresh start and resume her solo recording career with German composer and producer Frank Peterson, with whom she went on to make Dive (1993), Fly (1995), Timeless (Time To Say Goodbye) (1997), Eden (1998), La Luna (2000), Harem (2003), Symphony, and A Winter Symphony (both 2008).
In early 2016, Peterson began talking to Brightman about making a new album. “He kept calling me and saying, ‘Look, it’s time,’” she recalls. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Brightman, who had intended to launch on a future orbital spaceflight mission to the International Space Station, had halted her Cosmonaut training in Russia, which left her feeling vulnerable and depleted. “It was quite hard for me to bring myself down to earth again psychologically,” she says. “I also hadn’t sung for a while because of it, so I went to Florida to lie on the beach, work with an opera coach, and get myself back into a normal pattern again. During this time, Frank and I came to the conclusion that we should do something that sounded very beautiful and uplifting. That was the start of it. So we started looking at songs that we both felt good about — and suddenly we were working together again and it all felt familiar.”
Peterson reminded Brightman that audiences flocked to her because of “the beauty in her voice” and that, after mounting a technically complex tour filled with elaborate visuals and effects behind the science-minded Dreamchaser, a return to something simpler in nature, something spiritual and emotionally connected, might be just the thing to ease the inertia she was feeling. “I said, ‘Okay, you went the science route, let’s try something different,’” Peterson says. “It wasn’t calculated in any way; it simply felt right to both of us.”
The result is the spiritually themed Hymn — an inspirational collection of orchestrated, choir-based songs that Brightman says felt soothing to record after she came down to earth “with an enormous bump,” as she puts it. “I think musicians in particular start from whatever it is they’re going through.” The album isn’t religious, she says, and it doesn’t include any traditional “church songs.” “I kept thinking about this word, ‘hymn,’ and what it reminded me of. To me, it suggests joy — a feeling of hope and light, something that is familiar and secure. And that’s something I really needed at that point in my life. Every project I’ve done has come from an emotional place. This one, because I was basically starting at zero, felt like coming back from underground.”
Hymn’s mystical, uplifting tone is set with its title track — a song by British prog-rock band Barclay James Harvest. “Though obscure in England and America, they are huge in Germany and everybody there can sing along to this song,” Peterson says. “I’ve always thought ‘Hymn’ was a beautiful song that should make its way throughout the rest of the world, and hopefully now with Sarah singing it, it will.” “To me, the song sounds both grounded and heavenly at the same time,” Brightman says. From there, the album becomes excitingly eclectic, encompassing many different styles. There’s the operatic “Sogni,” which Peterson describes as “a mash-up” of two arias from two different operas by French composer Georges Bizet and flawlessly sung by Brightman and French tenor Vincent Niclo. There’s “Canto Per Noi,” written by famed Italian composer Ennio Morricone and Romano Musumarra, and “Follow Me” — the love theme from the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. “It’s a lovely choral piece with gorgeous Hollywood overtones,” Brightman says. “Frank and I have talked about doing it for years, but the timing was never right until now.”
Hymn, which was recorded over the past two years in Hamburg, Miami, London, Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, and Budapest, also encompasses songs by such modern composers as Eric Whitacre (“Fly To Paradise”), Japanese superstar musician and songwriter Yoshiki (“Miracle”), and German DJ Paul Kalkbrenner (“Sky and Sand”). “The original version of ’Sky and Sand’ is a minimalistic anthem for the European dance movement,” Peterson says. Brightman performed her ethereal version of the song at the opening of the World Club Dome EDM Festival in Frankfurt before an audience of 60,000 and “everyone went berserk because they all knew it,” she says. “It’s a piece that really touches people and brings everyone together.” Finally, the album closes with a new rendition of Brightman’s signature smash duet with Andrea Bocelli, “Time To Say Goodbye,” singing lyrics that she wrote herself, and sung in English for the first time. “We wanted to take it and make it sound more intimate,” she says, “as if you’re just saying these words to yourself. Love songs don’t always have to be grand.”
Perhaps not, but nearly everything about Brightman’s illustrious career has been pretty epic. Known for her three-octave range and for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement, Brightman has amassed global sales of more than 30 million units. The only artist to have simultaneously topped Billboard’s dance and classical music charts, Brightman has racked up more than 180 gold and platinum awards in over 40 countries. She is also known for her iconic star turn in The Phantom of the Opera, whose soundtrack has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Her duet with Bocelli, “Time To Say Goodbye,” became an international success selling 12 million copies worldwide. Brightman’s albums Eden, La Luna, Harem, and Symphony were each chart-topping Billboard hits and accompanied by world tours. Additionally, Brightman has performed at such prestigious events as the 2007 Concert for Diana, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In November, Brightman will launch The Hymn World Tour, which will include 125 shows on five continents throughout 2019. Of the tour, Brightman says fans should “expect the unexpected!”
Brightman is also gearing up for the November 2018 release of Hymn. “I’m looking forward to letting it go and having its wings,” she says. “Before that happens, an album is confined to the orchestras, choirs, and producers. It becomes its own thing when you let it fly. Then it’s in the lap of the gods.”