To the moon and back

“It’s not that I particularly like danger, I just like challenges. I’m not frightened to try things.” Classical crossover artist Sarah Brightman is talking about her La Luna World Tour. And by “things,” she means dangling several stories above the stage, performing heart-stopping somersaults, belting out an aria in midflight, then swooping downstage toward her enraptured audience.

Having helped to redefine the classical crossover genre, Brightman is now shattering the boundaries of live concerts. Her latest is a production replete with breathtaking set design, special effects, and high-flying stunts. Brightman’s performances are not just stirring. They apparently have the effect of moving PBS viewers to send checks in support of public television. Her last concert, One Night in Eden, was one of the top-grossing pledge events for PBS. (“La Luna in Concert” will air in Detroit on WTVS-Channel 56 on Dec. 5 at 10 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 1:30 a.m.)

In recent years, Brightman has sold more than 13 million records. And “Time to Say Goodbye,” her duet with Andrea Bocelli, still stands as the largest-selling single in German history. After all, it’s not every day that sex appeal meets opera, that techno meets ballet, that classical music meets flamboyant theatrics. Throw in a seraphic voice, the kind that warms the ears and melts the heart, and you’ve got one of today’s most distinctive artists.

Hailed by the Microsoft Network as one of the top 25 concerts this season, the La Luna World Tour would have broken even more ground had Brightman had her way. Original plans had her gliding over the audience, suspended from a free-floating helium balloon. Days before opening night, a crew member got hurt testing the apparatus, causing the insurance company to pull out. Frank Peterson, Brightman’s producer and boyfriend, recalls, “Sarah was still determined to do it. What finally convinced her against it was that she could not only endanger herself but her audience as well.”

Even the venue for the concert taping would have been celestial. The National Car Rental Center in Ft. Lauderdale was apparently not their first choice. Peterson reveals, “Since La Luna is a moon-themed concert, Sarah wanted an outdoor concert at Cape Canaveral … with the shuttle as the backdrop. But after months of bureaucracy, negotiations finally broke down.”

As in her music, it’s obvious that Brightman’s shows are passionate expressions of her artistic vision. “For the last concert, the creative team sat in my dining room during the planning stage. I said to them, ‘Here’s the music, the colors, the idea, and this is the feeling behind it.’ They know me so well by now, they get the gist of it immediately. But when I wanted to fly, everyone said ‘no.’ I insisted and that was the end of it!” she laughs. “So, yes, it all comes from me. After that, my brilliant team takes over.”

Her involvement also extends to the design of her eye-popping outfits. “It’s quite complicated, especially for the operatic pieces. You’ve got to have room to move your ribcage. Plus you don’t want it looking like a sack. I work out the costumes very carefully with a stylist friend of mine in England for months.”

And the results — ranging from a leather warrior outfit to a bikini shrouded in sheer webbing — are a far cry from the image that first brought her to world attention, that of ingenue Christine in ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Over a decade later, Brightman’s provocative costumes and sinewy dance moves are casting her in yet another role; that of a sex symbol. She chuckles, “I don’t contrive to (become one). I wear what’s right for the mood of the piece and what’s comfortable.”

Comfort, of course, is paramount. Her ambitious six-month, four-continent tour is mercilessly grueling. “I’ll carry this till next spring. But after that, I’ve got to stop for my own sanity. This will probably be my last tour for a while. I was told the other night that my personality changed 10 times in one evening,” Brightman laughs.

Veteran of the stage that she is, Brightman is still not free from preshow nerves. “It’s horrible. I still get all sweaty … But you actually can’t perform without the adrenaline going. So I think you subconsciously build up the pressure. By about half past 3, I’m usually focused in. Then half an hour before the show, I get quite frenetic. I pace around, drive everybody nuts.”

Pressures aside, Brightman does relish performing, as is evident to the sellout crowds each night. “Apart from the performance, my favorite part about touring is I’ve lots of friends around me. They’re like family. They’re all looking after me. After the performance, we go to the bar, talking, laughing …”

And what’s her least favorite part about touring? As Brightman searches hard for an answer, this writer volunteers, “Doing interviews?” When the peals of laughter subside, she obliges, “Yes, most probably!”

Siew May Chin contributes to a variety of publications and media, from to the LA Times Syndicate. E-mail her at [email protected]
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