Sarah Brightman was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England to Paula and Grenville Brightman, the eldest of six children. At three, she took ballet lessons at Elmhurst School and appeared in local festivals. At 11, Brightman attended the Arts Educational boarding school for jazz and acting, an experience she recalled with The Independent as troublesome.
Brightman was teased by other students and ran away once, but remained at the school. Later, she auditioned for London's Royal Ballet but was rejected. At 16, in 1976, Brightman joined the dance group Pan's People, on the BBC series Top of the Pops. She left a year later to lead Hot Gossip, a mixed dance act who appeared on The Kenny Everett Video Show.
The group, more provocative than Pan's People, had a disco hit in 1978 with "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper", which sold half a million and reached number six on the UK charts. The group released a follow-up single, "The Adventures of the Love Crusader", six months later, but it failed to chart. Brightman, now solo, released more disco singles under Whisper Records; these included "Not Having That!" and a cover of the song "My Boyfriend's Back".
1981–1989: Stage career
In 1981, Brightman auditioned for the new musical Cats and received the role of Jemima. In rehearsals she met Andrew Lloyd Webber. The two married in 1984 and Brightman starred in Lloyd Webber's musicals, including Song and Dance and the mass Requiem, the latter written for her. With Requiem she earned her first Grammy nomination. Brightman starred as Christine Daaé in Lloyd Webber's adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. The role of Christine was written specifically for her.Lloyd Webber refused to open The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway unless Brightman played Christine. Initially, the American Actors' Equity Association balked, due to their policy that any non-American performer must be an international star. Lloyd Webber had to cast an American in a leading role in his next West End musical before the Equity would allow Brightman to appear (a promise he kept in casting Aspects of Love). After leaving Phantom, she performed in a tour of Lloyd Webber's music throughout England, Canada, and the United States, and performed Requiem in the Soviet Union. She released studio recordings, including the single "Anything But Lonely" from Aspects of Love and two solo albums: the 1988 album The Trees They Grow So High, a compilation of folk songs accompanied by piano, and the 1989 album The Songs That Got Away, a musical theatre compilation of songs cut from shows by composers such as Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim. By 1990, Brightman and Lloyd Webber separated. After the divorce, Brightman was lead in Lloyd Webber's Aspects in London opposite Michael Praed, before transferring to Broadway.
1990s: Solo career
Her stage career curtailed, Brightman pursued solo recording in Los Angeles. In 1992, she sang the song for the Olympic Games, "Amigos Para Siempre" with José Carreras, written by Lloyd Webber. She was inspired to go solo by the German band Enigma and requested to work with one of its members. Her request was answered and in 1991 Brightman traveled to Germany to meet her producer, Frank Peterson. Their first release was Dive (1993), a water-themed pop album that featured "Captain Nemo", a cover of a song by the Swedish electronica band Dive. Fly (1995), a pop rock album and her second collaboration with Peterson, propelled Brightman to fame in Europe with the hit "A Question of Honour". The song, introduced at the World Boxing Championship match between Germany's Henry Maske and Graciano Rocchigiani, combined electronic dance music, rock elements, classical strings, and excerpts from the aria "Ebben? ... Ne andrò lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's opera La Wally. "Time to Say Goodbye" ("Con te partirò") was the second Brightman song debuted for Maske, this time at his retirement match. This duet with tenor Andrea Bocelli sold more than 3 million copies in Germany alone, became Germany's best-selling single, and was successful in numerous other countries; the album eventually sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Due to the song's success, a 1996 re-issue of Fly featured "Time to Say Goodbye" as the first track. Timeless (released in 1997, with the title Time to Say Goodbye in the United States) contained "Time to Say Goodbye" and other classical-inspired tracks such as "Just Show Me How to Love You", a duet with José Cura (originally sung by Dario Baldambembo with the title "Tu Cosa Fai Stasera?"), a cover of the Queen hit "Who Wants to Live Forever", and "Tu Quieres Volver", (originally recorded by the Gipsy Kings). Brightman's mainstream exposure in the United States also began around this time, starting with an appearance on Bocelli's December 1997 PBS television special, duetting "Time to Say Goodbye"; later, in March 1998, her own PBS special, Sarah Brightman in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, marked the point when she crossed from Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart to the Billboard 200 chart, with Time to Say Goodbye. Despite this, however, attempts to market songs from the album to U.S. Top 40 and heritage radio formats were mostly unsuccessful. In 1999, she appeared on the album I Won't Forget You by Princessa, another artist with whom Peterson had worked.
2000–2003: Further mainstream success
Later albums included Eden (1998) (the title track of which was a cover of a song by Belgian band Hooverphonic), and La Luna (2000). These albums, unlike Time to Say Goodbye, incorporated more pop music elements. Reviews were mixed - LAUNCHcast deemed Eden "deliriously sappy", while Allmusic called Eden "a winning combination" and La Luna "a solid, stirring collection".Eden reached #65 on the Billboard 200 charts (certified Gold for selling over 500,000 copies), and La Luna peaked at #17. In addition, both albums reached #1 on Billboard's Classical Crossover charts. At the end of 2001, Billboard magazine noted Brightman as one of four classical crossover artists from the UK (the others being Charlotte Church, Russell Watson, and bond) with albums on both the Classical Crossover and Billboard 200 charts, a phenomenon which, it said, contributed to a resurgence of UK music in the U.S. after "a historic low" in 1999.
In 2001, Brightman released Classics, an album of operatic arias and other classical pieces including a solo version of "Time to Say Goodbye". Its reviews were somewhat better than its predecessors: Entertainment Weekly, although calling Brightman a "stronger song stylist than a singer", gave the album a grade of B-.Her 2003 album Harem represented another departure: a Middle Eastern-themed album influenced by dance music. On Harem, Brightman collaborated with artists such as Ofra Haza and Iraqi singer Kazem al-Saher. Nigel Kennedy contributed violin tracks to the songs "Free" and "The War is Over", and Jaz Coleman contributed arrangements.
The album peaked at #29 on the Billboard 200 charts (with sales tracked by Nielsen SoundScan figuring at approximately 333,000, or about one-third the total sales of La Luna),#1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover chart, and yielded a #1 dance/club single with the remix of the title track. Some time later, another single from the album (the ballad "Free", cowritten with Sophie B. Hawkins) became a second Top-10 hit on this chart. Nevertheless, radio airplay for the album's singles, at least in the U.S., was almost nonexistent.
The albums Eden, La Luna, and Harem were accompanied by live tours which incorporated the theatricality of her stage origins. Brightman acknowledged this in an interview, saying, "They're incredibly complicated...[but also] natural. I know what works, what doesn't work, all the old tricks." In both 2000 and 2001, Brightman was among the top 10 most popular British performers in the U.S., with concert sales grossing $7.2 million from 34 shows in 2000 and over $5 million from 21 shows in 2001.Most recently, the Harem tour grossed over $60 million and sold over 700,000 tickets,$15 million and 225,000 sales of which came from the North American leg, although with ticket prices raised 30% from previous tours, average sales per venue were up 65%.In North America, Harem tour promoters Clear Channel Entertainment (now Live Nation) took the unusual step of advertising to theatre subscribers, in an effort to reach fans of Brightman's Broadway performances, and also sold VIP tickets, at $750 each, that included on-stage seating during the concert and a backstage pass.
Tour reviews were mixed: one critic from the New York Times called the La Luna tour "not so much divine but post-human" and "unintentionally disturbing: a beautiful argument of emptiness." In contrast, a reviewer from the Boston Globe deemed the Harem tour "unique, compelling" and "charmingly effective." Television specials on PBS were produced for nearly every Brightman album in the U.S.; a director of marketing has credited these as her number-one source of exposure in the country. Indeed, her concert for Eden was among PBS's most grossing pledge events.
Brightman released a DVD collection of her music videos on 3 October 2006 under the title of Diva: The Video Collection. Diva: The Singles Collection is the accompanying CD, released on the same date. The album marked the first time Brightman has released a greatest hits album in the United States; it reached #1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover chart. (Classics, from 2001, featured seven new recordings in addition to the previously-released material, and her other reflective offering, The Best of 1990-2000, was a European-only release.) Brightman was one of the artists featured on the January 2007 series of the prime time BBC One show Just the Two of Us, partnered with English cricketer Mark Butcher.
The pair finished the competition in third place. Subsequent appearances include the Concert For Diana in July 2007, where she sung "All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera with Josh Groban; the 7 July, 2007 Chinese leg of Live Earth in Shanghai, where she performed four songs ("Nessun Dorma", "La Luna", "Nella Fantasia" and "Time to Say Goodbye") and debuted her single "Running" at the 2007 IAAF Championships in Osaka, Japan on 25 August. She also participated at the 2007 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where she performed "The Journey Home" on the Jolly Polly Pirate Ship.
She recorded a duet with Anne Murray singing "Snowbird" on Murray's 2007 album Anne Murray Duets: Friends and Legends. On 29 January, 2008, Brightman released her first album in five years: Symphony, influenced by gothic music. The Song "Symphony" is a cover of "Symphonie" by the German band Silbermond. Featured on the album are artists Fernando Lima, Andrea Bocelli, and KISS vocalist Paul Stanley, who duets with Brightman on "I Will Be With You", the album version of the theme song to the 10th Pocket Monsters motion picture, Dialga VS Palkia VS Darkrai (Pokémon: The Rise of Darkrai).
To accompany Symphony, Brightman will embark on a tour in Autumn 2008. Brightman made several appearances on television in the United States to promote Symphony, including Fashion on Ice on NBC on 12 January, The View on 30 January, Martha on 31 January and Fox and Friends on the Fox News Channel. She performed two songs, "Pie Jesu" and "There You'll Be", at the United States Memorial Day concert on 25 May 2008 held on the west lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.. Brightman stars as Blind Mag in the rock musical film Repo! the Genetic Opera due to be released on 7 November, 2008. On 8 August 2008 Brightman and Chinese singer Liu Huan jointly sang You and Me in both Mandarin and English at the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening ceremony In the 2008 holiday season, Brightman will release her first ever holiday album entitled A Winter Symphony.