Like many, I first became enchanted with Sarah Brightman when I heard her sing the role of Christine in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. I still listen to the 2-disc soundtrack of the rock-opera regularly, along with other Brightman hits; Time to Say Goodbye, Eden, and so on. So I was thrilled to see she has released a compilation album, Diva: The Singles Collection. And because she’s gorgeous and has stunning visual creativity, I awaited the accompanying DVD with equal enthusiasm: Diva: The Video Collection. Make no mistake, just because they share a title, this doesn’t mean they are interchangeable in a fan’s collection. Sold separately, the CD holds just 14 songs, while the DVD showcases 20 music videos, complete with background stories by Brightman herself.
The selection of songs on the CD showcases an excellent mix of the music that spans her career: from early works such as “Pie Jesu” to a taste of Phantom, with songs such as “Music of the Night” to her covers such as “Scarborough Fair.” The only song I truly missed from this collection was her cover of “Dust in the Wind,” but that’s what an iPod playlist is for, right?
The album opens with the title song from Phantom of the Opera. The music is dynamic, as always, and Brightman gives her usual dramatic performance. However, if you are used to Michael Crawford, you may find Steve Harley's singing of The Phantom’s lines distracting (as you also may the alternate lyrics). Harley’s voice is harsher, rockier, and doesn’t meld as well with Brightman’s soprano as Michael Crawford’s did. Of course, I grew up seeing and hearing Michael Crawford as The Phantom, so the bias may be ingrained in my psyche.
The album continues with the haunting “Music of the Night” and the sorrowful “Pie Jesu,” whose Latin words translate “Merciful Jesus (Pie Jesu), Grant them rest (Dona eis requiem).” A similar plea arises in a more personal (instead of social) way in the poignant “Deliver Me.” I could have sworn this was a cover of Depeche Mode, but, evidently, I was wrong. It’s okay though; what Depeche Mode might have made pouty, Brightman’s voice pulls out of the lyrics the inspirational, hopeful message of the music. This introduces a theme woven throughout much of her music: hope in the midst of despair. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is one of my favorites, and another example of this, with its dark lyrics and powerful music.
Brightman’s duet with beloved opera singer Andrea Bocelli, “Time To Say Goodbye,” also probes for hope in a desperate situation. Her voice next to Bocelli’s is soothing, and delivers warmth to what would otherwise be a sad song. Brightman shares this chemistry with Jose Cura as well, in “Just Show Me How to Love You” — there is a half-beat after he starts singing in which you’re not sure if it’s still Brightman or not. His gentle voice flows in after hers, and then it deepens and grows stronger, building to a powerful, climactic duet at the end.
Speaking of duos, you can’t miss Brightman’s cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Scarborough Fair.” Well, I think of it as their song, anyway, though their 1966 version wasn’t anything close to “original.” Personally, I prefer the folky charm of their version, but Brightman definitely brings her own polished style to this very old song. Who’s to say which way the bards of Old England would have preferred it?
So while I feel this CD is a must-have for any Sarah Brightman fan and a smart buy for any fan of really rich music, don’t think I’m going to bow down and worship this album. There are a few songs I’m not as into. The strong cadence on “Tu Quieres Volver” is a little too much marching-band-esque for me, and the inspirational “What You Never Know” reminds me too much of a cheesy pep talk. Not that these are bad songs — I wouldn’t skip over them or anything — they just stand out from an excellent collection as a little weaker than the rest of the pack.
I listened to the CD before I viewed the DVD, and originally, “A Question Of Honour” was my least favorite on the album. It’s very electronic, but that’s not even the problem. It’s the trite lyrics — some didn’t even really make sense. “Win or lose, it’s a question of honour. And the way that you choose, it’s a question of honour.” Hmmm. But then I watched the DVD, and this is one of the songs for which she has a video. Before each video, she discusses the background of the song, time period, and video. And after her narration, it’s grown on me. It was written and sung to serve as an introduction to a boxing championship, which gives the song a contextual clarity so it makes sense (i.e., the lyrics “two men collide”).
This is a perfect example of why, though the CD and DVD are mutually exclusive, they compliment one another and really enhance each listening/viewing experience. Plus, Sarah Brightman is gorgeous, sensual, and she has hair to die for. You just won’t want to miss her in those sexy costumes and exotic locations. So stay tuned for my review of Diva: The Video Collection, and, in the meantime, be sure to check out the Diva: The Singles Collection CD.
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