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Music Review: Sarah Brightman – Diva (CD and DVD)

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Soprano Sarah Brightman's new CD/DVD set Diva is a compilation of past performances, and although the two pieces can be purchased separately, there is enough variety in the songs included on each component to make buying both a move to consider. The CD contains 14 songs, 10 of which are also on the DVD, and the DVD includes 21 tunes, so 11 of them are not on the CD. (Confused? See the listing at the bottom.)

If you're a fan of this singing star and already possess every album she's ever made, then you probably have all the songs on the CD – but you still might want the DVD. That would allow you to not only enjoy the many different looks on the videos but also to see your favorite singer give an extensive on-camera introduction to each, complete with her reminiscences. (There's also a bonus available at her website.)

Both the CD and the DVD are well-packaged and attractive, with glossy liner notes. They are a little stingy on info but chock full of pictures of Sarah in her various guises – and as fans know, that's quite an assortment. She's almost chameleon-like in her ability to change her look via costumes and makeup, and of course her natural maturing over the years adds to the mix. Now in her mid-forties, she's actually been performing since she was a teenager, but all of these performances are from her last 20 years, the period of her stardom.

The CD wisely opens with "Phantom Of The Opera", the main theme from the show that made her a star. It was written for her by her then husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and is compelling although I wasn't particularly fond of ex-rocker Steve Harley's supporting vocals. I enjoyed later duets more than this one, especially "Just Show Me How To Love You" with Argentinean tenor José Cura, whose gorgeous voice perfectly complements Sarah's. And of course we can't forget the mega-hit "Time To Say Goodbye" with Andrea Bocelli, which is included on both the CD and DVD.

The 2nd cut on the CD, "Music Of The Night", another big hit from Phantom, probably showcases Sarah's voice more fully than any other song from the show. I also enjoyed her interpretation of "Scarborough Fair", which appears only on the CD, and "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", which is on both components. One cut that was — let's say interesting — was "It's A Beautiful Day", which builds around a familiar theme from Puccini but ranges far and wide and occasionally loses its way.

If you're into analysis, you can probably use this collection of songs to track how she's evolved throughout her long career, continuing to study and work on technique – but you might want to just settle back and enjoy a good singer doing her thing. Overall, this is a good grouping of some of Sarah's best songs, and probably the perfect album for a new fan or a long-time fan who just hasn't had the opportunity to buy all her albums.

The DVD forms a more complete listening and viewing experience for many of the same songs that are on the CD by adding the visual impact of Sarah in striking costumes and in some cases unbelievable settings. Those from Phantom, especially the main theme segment, are breathtaking in their richness and complexity, and set a perfect mood.

Another example of a video adding something to a song from the CD is "Pie Jesu" from Requiem, which picks up added weight when viewed with backgrounds of Irish urban destruction and victimized children. Sarah's duet with an angelic boy singer works well too.

The DVD also adds many songs that aren't on the CD, and some of those are outstanding. A duet with Spanish tenor José Carreras, "Amigos Para Siempre", which was a video made to promote the Barcelona Olympic games is enjoyable if a little light. In a more serious vein is "How Could Heaven Love Me", an unusual-looking video with its Soviet era 1984-like set, but a good listen as Sarah teams up successfully with another ex-rocker, Manfred Mann's Chris Thompson.

Set design was mostly outstanding on the videos making up this DVD, and in some cases made good songs better by setting the proper mood, which is of course why they're there. A couple that were filmed in the middle east come to mind: "Harem", which features Sarah in the midst of sets and actors that are very evocative of a harem, or at least what we would imagine one to be. "Free", which is also from the album Harem, is a nice song with a look that's just gorgeous, as Sarah levitates on water apparently surrounded by her harem-sisters.

Some of the videos had a kind of faux surreal look (although I guess surreal is kind of faux by definition) but some worked better than others. I wasn't particularly enamored with the look of "Captain Nemo" or "Eden", both of which seemed to drown in their water effects. However, I did get a kick out of "Starship Troopers", a sort of silly disco-themed romp, the video works into that sci-fi movie featuring giant space bugs. (It was actually her first hit from the late seventies when she was part of the group Hot Gossip, and is re-worked here.)

And finally I have to mention her video of Schubert's "Ave Maria". Sarah chooses to tweak tradition by appearing in only minimal (but strategically-placed) gold lace and trim. I didn't have a problem with it and the thought occurred to me that Goldfinger, the villain from the James Bond movie, would have loved it – but at the same time I can understand how some people might have found it a little… unusual.

Sarah Brightman: Diva – The Singles Collection
01. Phantom Of The Opera
02. Music Of The Night
03. Pie Jesu
04. Who Wants To Live Forever
05. Tu Quiereres Volver
06. Just Show Me How To Love You
07. Deliver Me
08. Nella Fantasia
09. Scarborough Fair
10. Whiter Shade Of Pale
11. It's A Beautiful Day
12. What You Never Know
13. A Question Of Honour
14. Time To Say Goodbye

Sarah Brightman: Diva – The Video Collection
01- Pie Jesu
02- Phantom of the Opera
03- Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
04- Amigos Para Siempre
05- Captain Nemo
06- A Question of Honour
07- How Can Heaven Love Me
08- Time to Say Goodbye
09- Just Show Me How to Love You
10- Eden
11- Who Wants to Live Forever
12- Deliver Me
13- Anytime, Anywhere
14- Nella Fantasia
15- Whiter Shade of Pale
16- Ave Maria
17- Kama Sutra
18- Harem
19- Free
20- Starship Troopers
21- Music of The Night (Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday Celebration)

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