The world’s best-selling soprano and legendary Grammy Award-nominated artist Sarah Brightman is bringing her latest project, A Christmas Symphony, to the Houston area this holiday season. The music megastar, who has appeared in both Broadway and West End productions, is perhaps best remembered for originating Phantom of the Opera’s Christine Daaé. She inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber, who named her his “angel of music,” and she has sung in two Olympic Games ceremonies.
Ahead of her December 18 appearance at Smart Financial Centre, Brightman eked out time from her jet-setting schedule to speak with OutSmart about the concert and her career.
Sam Byrd: What can people expect from this concert?
Sarah Brightman: Last Christmas, when everything started to get really locked up because of COVID-19, I wanted to do something for my fans and for the musicians who were out of work. I devised a Christmas show that could be streamed. I found a wonderful old church in London, and we put together the show. It was quite hard to put together in the time we had, but we did it. We had an overwhelming response, because I love Christmas and I thought it would cheer everybody up. It was so successful that I thought I’d love to do it in a bigger way in theaters when we could get back onstage again. It’s lovely because it ticks all the boxes on the kinds of songs that all different types might like to hear for the holiday season. It has a wonderful set and lighting design, and beautiful costumes.
How have you prepared for this next venture in your career?
Just in the usual ways I do. When you put on these types of shows—especially a Christmas show—the repertoire is huge, so you have to be careful about how you pick the music. Obviously, some people who come want fun Christmas songs; some want a religious, spiritual experience; some people just want to hear the choir and the orchestra. Some people have a difficult time at Christmas, and might want to listen to some beautiful music which might be solemn in a way. That was tricky to do. Luckily, I had time to do it. I also had to work out what is best for my voice, for what I’m singing.
What songs might people recognize?
I did a mixture for my fans. They always love to hear a few pieces from Phantom of the Opera, so I picked a couple of pieces there that I felt would fit well with the Christmas spirit. There’s a time in the concert when I have to say goodbye, so I sing “Time to Say Goodbye.” For the Christmas and spiritual songs, I have a very traditional “Silent Night,” I’ve got a gospel piece named “Better Is One Day.” And the orchestra plays pieces from The Nutcracker Suite. There’s lots there.
Do you have any favorite holiday traditions?
We do. I come from a very big family. I’ve got five siblings. In England, on our Christmas Eve, we have a gathering where everyone brings food and nice drinks. Some people might want to go to Midnight Mass after that. The following day is pure family—a table with a Christmas turkey and all the things Americans have, as well.
How has this last year and a half transpired for you?
As an artist, you have to be useful to yourself and others as much as possible. For me, I cared for my family on the weekends. I would travel to see them, do their shopping, and retrieve any medical supplies. During the week, I went into a bubble with my singing coach. I did a huge amount of retraining on my voice, and that’s been useful because normally you don’t get to do that when you’re always working. I was able to go to France when they unlocked, and do lots of TV shows. But it was so difficult for everyone, because musicians were unemployed and everyone was frightened because no one wanted to get sick. We had to find a way to be useful.
Talk about your reaction to receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It was amazing. What a lovely thing to receive—and from America! I’m a British girl who was brought up in a market town outside of London. It’s a joy! I feel so lucky that I’ve been received in America in this way. I feel very privileged.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got quite a few unusual things that I can’t talk about yet. They’re different [projects that involve] storytelling, and I think people will enjoy it. That’s one of the good things to come out of what we went through in the last two years. [It gave us] time to think about what could come next, and what we could do to
Do you have a message you’d like to share with your LGBTQ fans?
I want to shower love on you all, and [remind everyone] to be happy, be fulfilled, and follow your dreams, because anything is possible.
We always hear about people who are so inspired by Sarah Brightman. But who inspires you?
I think we’re all instruments of God, however you want to think of God—as a force, or a huge, natural wholeness. That’s what inspires me. You know, you can get up one morning and have a wonderful idea, and you can do something about it. That’s an amazing thing. We’re born into this world and we have this wonderment all around us. We can do wonderful things. We can suffer hardships and get through it, and still be imaginative.
After your shift to more of a solo career, would you like to originate another role
or perform again on Broadway or the West End?
I haven’t done theater for a very long time because my career took a different route. But never say never. There might be something that comes up that I would be suited to. Going back to eight shows a week is a way of performing that I’m not completely used to, and it would take me a while to get my head around that. At the end of the day, I do hundreds of performances and concerts, so it’s not very different. But I’d be open to that idea. I feel lucky that I was the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera, and was a muse.
Talk about your relationship with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
We have a really sweet relationship. We live only a few streets away from each other. It was nice during COVID-19 because we both have dogs. We would go to the local park and walk our dogs and have a coffee and talk about things. He’s been very good about helping to push forward the idea of theaters reopening, and helping performers [who have been unemployed].
Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for Broadway’s newest Christine?
What’s lovely for me is seeing newer and younger performers play the part when I occasionally go to see Phantom of the Opera. They’re doing all the moves that were created when I was Christine, but they’re bringing their own spirit to it. It’s a jewel, that musical. It’s wonderful.
If you could go back in time to experience a live performance from someone who has passed on, who would it be?
Any favorite memories from your Hot Gossip dance troupe?
Behind the scenes, we used to go from a gig to different venues. Having danced all day and done a TV show, we’d then dance on the bus while heading to a club to keep going. It’s amazing the energy you have at that age. The outfits were very shiny and glittery, but they were very itchy on the legs.
Do you consider yourself to be a classical, pop, or a true crossover artist?
I don’t know. I just love music. I’m conceptual. I don’t do anything if there isn’t a good reason for it to be there. I’m not a fan of things happening on stage if there’s not a reason for it. There’s a huge subtext to what I do. I trained classically and still do, because I think it’s the basis for everything. It was the same thing when I was a dancer. Whatever inspires me musically and I think I can fit into, I do. But I never tackle a song from the past if I can’t bring anything new to it.
What do you do in your downtime?
I love my family. I’m very close to them. I have a lovely partner, and I like spending time with him. I have two dachshunds that I adore. I’m actually quite ordinary in my private life. I’m not into fancy foods or doing anything extraordinary. I feel lucky that I’m satisfied with not requiring a lot. I have so much in my working life; it’s sometimes really over the top. For me to have a personal life that is ordinary is very important.
What: Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony
When: December 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Boulevard in Sugar Land
This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.