The world's most successful classical crossover artist, Sarah Brightman first tasted stardom as lead singer for Hot Gossip who had a 1978 novelty hit, "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper." After originating the role of Jemima in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats," Brightman and Webber fell in love and were married. With their careers intertwined, Brightman scored a solo hit with Webber's "Pie Jesu" and then achieved musical theater stardom as Christine Daaé in his "The Phantom of the Opera." An unprecedented, never-to-be replicated global phenomenon, "Phantom" defined an era and, after she and Webber divorced, gave Brightman the ability to launch her own successful solo singing career. Blending opera, pop, dance, electronic and world music, Brightman became the world's biggest pop/opera diva with a string of hit albums, including Dive, Fly, Time to Say Goodbye, Eden, La Luna and Harem. Her duet with Andrea Bocelli, "Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partirò)," became an enduring hit, and Brightman built an international classical crossover empire with her successful albums, tours, DVDs and specials. Blessed with a piercingly pure voice able to scale immense heights, Sarah Brightman carved out her own unique place as a beloved global figure in the world's entertainment industry.
Born Aug. 14, 1960 in Berkhamsted, Herfordshire, England, Sarah Brightman grew up immersed in the study of music and dance, displaying prodigious talent for both and building a reputation as a gifted and ambitious up-and-comer in the West End. She achieved minor fame as the lead singer of the dance troupe Hot Gossip, and scored a 1978 hit with a "Star Wars" (1977)-inspired single, "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper." Although she left Hot Gossip shortly thereafter to launch a solo disco career, Brightman found her path to superstardom via the stage, making her West End debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats." Building on her success, she landed other high-profile musical theater roles, catching Webber's eye along the way. Brightman would the musical genius' muse, and in 1984, his wife. Brightman's unique talent and training helped the couple reach even greater professional heights; by combining her gorgeous soprano voice and operatic training with her pop and disco experience, Brightman represented a new type of musical theater leading lady, one who more than lived up to Webber's sobriquet for her: "Angel of Music." Nominated for a Best Classical Artist Grammy, Brightman turned Webber's operatic adaptation of "Pie Jesu" into a radio hit in her native U.K.
Inspired by his wife's far-ranging musical gifts from opera to rock, Webber wrote the part of a lifetime for her: the gifted yet haunted would-be opera singer Christine Daaé in "The Phantom of the Opera." Few productions enjoyed the enormous and influential impact as "Phantom," with the gothic musical becoming a smash in both the West End and on Broadway. Even its soundtrack became a worldwide sensation as "Phantom Mania" sweeping the world. Fans fell deeply in love with the swooningly romantic story of a disfigured musical genius (Michael Crawford) who, while living in catacombs below the Paris Opera House, goes to murderous lengths to win the heart of his angelic muse, Christine. The lush, dramatic production captured the imagination of millions around the world. Gifted with soaring numbers that showcased her amazing range, Brightman was the definitive Christine for countless "Phanatics" and she left the show an enormous musical theater star, second only to Crawford, who, himself, became an international star overnight. She went on to star in Webber's "Aspects" and to release the albums The Trees They Grow So High, The Songs that Got Away and As I Came Of Age, but by 1990, the power couple who had inspired one another to greatness had divorced.
In the wake of her "Phantom" fame and divorce, Brightman made the decision to retire from the stage and to focus solely on a professional singing career. Reinventing herself as the ultimate classical crossover diva, she teamed with producer Frank Peterson to record 1993's hit concept album Dive, built around water-themed songs and featuring Brightman in full glamour mode. She built on her success with her follow-up, 1995's Fly, but became a true musical superstar with the release of 1997's Time to Say Goodbye, also known as Timeless. Reflecting an eclectic blend of world styles, the album helped Brightman scored the biggest hit of her career when she dueted with Andrea Bocelli on the gorgeous "Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partirò)." The song and the album became global smashes, and Brightman went on to score similar worldwide hits with the albums Eden, La Luna, Harem, Symphony and A Winter Symphony. Brightman also booked a memorable role in the musical "Repo! The Genetic Opera" (2008) as a blind opera singer, sang the Olympic theme song at the 2008 Olympics, and dueted with child opera prodigy Jackie Evancho on the 2010 finale of "America's Got Talent" (NBC, 2006- ).
Despite or perhaps because of her global success, Brightman remained more popular with fans than with critics, who frequently complained about perceived flaws in the singer's technique, her increasingly glamorous and mysterious persona, and the purist-angering fact that many casual fans considered Brightman to be a traditional "opera" or "classical" vocal star. Nevertheless, Brightman's success and popularity could not be denied, and with her pop cultural dominance of Asia, she became one of the most powerful and popular singers on the planet. Intrigued by the idea of venturing beyond the bounds of Earth, Brightman made international headlines when it was announced she was planning on becoming the first professional singer to travel to and perform in outer space as part of her work as UNESCO's Artist for Peace, as well as for bringing attention to the importance of women in technology, science and research, and to uniquely promote her 2013 album, Dreamchaser.
By Jonathan Riggs