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A VOICE OF HER OWN
SARAH BRIGHTMAN FINDS HER UNIQUE STYLE - APART FROM ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER

Soprano Sarah Brightman, who successfully traverses the lines of both classical and popular music, will arrive on the new stage at Shea's Performing Arts Center next Friday riding the crest of an extraordinary wave of success.

It's a wave generated by her successful recording career, appearances on public television and her acclaimed current concert tour, "One Night in Eden."

Brightman was for many years the wife of Andrew Lloyd Webber and starred in many of his musicals, including "The Phantom of the Opera." Even after they divorced in 1991, Brightman continued to be featured in Lloyd Webber's music.

But now, while continuing to sing that music and to maintain cordial relations with the composer, Brightman feels she has established a musical home of her own making, one in which her voice, the type of music she performs and her perception of who she is are, at last, very much in tune.

Brightman was born in London in 1960 and by age 3 was on stage as a dancer. Her early career also embraced acting and pop singing before Lloyd Webber spotted her in the chorus of his musical "Cats."

Marriage ensued in 1984, along with featured roles in Lloyd Webber's "Song and Dance" and his 1985 "Requiem," as well as an independent operatic debut.

But all that paled by comparison when Lloyd Webber wrote "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986, creating the role of Christine for his bride.

With such "Phantom" tunes as "All I Ask of You" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," Brightman became a genuine superstar.

But there was enough trouble in paradise that in 1990 Brightman and Lloyd Webber split as a family. However, they remained friends and professional colleagues, with Brightman starring in his "Aspects of Love" and the touring "Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert."

And Brightman sought new venues, recording a duet with Jose Carreras for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, appearing as an actress in straight dramatic productions, and recording a mixture of classic-to-rock numbers with the London Symphony called "Time to Say Goodbye."

That album ranked No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover charts for 35 weeks, and its title song was sung as a duet with the celebrated blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli that also became Germany's most successful single ever.

This was all just a preamble to "One Night in Eden," in which Brightman feels she has made her most personal musical statement.

It is a mixture of operatic, folk and the ecstatic kind of pop music that Brightman seems to call her own, and is available on CD and video, the latter a taping of her first performance of the current tour, filmed in Sun City, South Africa. This video has been used quite successfully by WNED-TV in two recent fund drives.

The programs of the CD and the video contain mostly common selections, but there are four or five additional pieces exclusive to each of the formats. Either, however, will give a good idea of what the character of Brightman's performance in "One Night in Eden" will be like on the Shea's stage.

In the video she radiates an aura of pure innocence with her baby face and penetrating eyes. It's an ideal visual counterpart to her voice, a soprano of surpassing tonal beauty and immaculate intonation but small size, sounding for the most part as though she were singing in a sweet half-voice for her own pleasure and depending largely on amplification to carry it against the orchestra in any dynamic climaxes.

To her credit, Brightman does not try to hide this. She wears an undisguised headset with a small microphone curling around in front of her face.

For all the unforced beauty of Brightman's voice and the clarity of the amplified sound, however, her emphasis seems to be more on tone than articulation, and very few of the words are discernible.

"One Night in Eden" is not just a concert, either: It's an intricately staged, brilliantly lighted, high-tech spectacular. There are many costume changes for Brightman and striking visual effects, such as an impressive underwater scene with swimmers suspended on wires. As Brightman prepares to sing the title tune, "Eden," there is a languorous dance by saffron-robed monks, followed by a cadre of bare-chested men provocatively supine, reaching out to touch her as the song approaches its erotically suggestive climax.

The suggestion of sensuality is further maintained by the predominantly slow tempos of the music and the lush orchestral backgrounds.

Brightman adds further to her act's vague feeling of dichotomy by concluding most songs with her arms slowly raised to the heavens, a look of quiet, almost puzzled rapture on her face. This, it would seem, is partly a spiritual gesture, but also a subtle supplication for applause.

Now that Brightman has found her niche, is she clearly classifiable as either a classical or pop singer?

Not really. For those looking for easy categorization, Brightman would have to be labeled a crossover artist.

She seems spiritually at home in the operatic world, and in fact, the most gorgeous singing on both CD and video is saved for the Handel aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" from the opera "Rinaldo." The silky orchestration probably will alienate Handel purists, but Brightman's singing and phrasing are devastatingly beautiful.

Other classical selections are well-sung but even further "altered," including the switching of Puccini's famed "Nessun Dorma" from a tenor aria to soprano, and writing her own lyrics ("Anytime, Anywhere," sung in Italian) for Albinoni's popular Adagio and underlining it with a quasi-Latin beat.

Also translated into Italian is the big tune from "Titanic," James Horner's "My Heart Will Go On." Brightman says she did this because it's the most fluid language for the song, but one writer suggests it was her way of reclaiming the song from Celine Dion, who uses it as a signature tune.

Brightman also reclaims the famous "Music of the Night," which was sung by the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera."

Pop or classical, Brightman's vocal approach is the same: intimate, pure, sweet, carefully measured and, because she is able to avoid slipping into the saccharine, always enjoyable.

The "One Night in Eden" production toured America earlier this summer, and is now in the middle of a 27-stop fall tour, of which Buffalo is the 17th port of call.

What next for Brightman?

"I don't know what the future will hold," she said recently, "but I want to write a lot of music and let the ideas that have been in my brain for years just pour out."

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