Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Soprano set to soar, literally and figuratively

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Last October, crossover queen Sarah Brightman announced she was planning to take a little trip -- to outer space.

The bestselling British soprano will join a three-person crew on a future orbital spaceflight mission to the International Space Station, slated for 2015. Once on the ISS, Brightman will orbit Earth 16 times per day during her 12-day trip and intends to become the first professional musician to sing from space.

She'll be the first space tourist since Cirque du soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who made the trip in 2009.

And no, Brightman has not seen Gravity yet.

"It's a movie, so I'm sure they're going to put in every horrendous thing that can happen in an hour-and-a-half," she says of Alfonso Cuaròn's stranded-in-space box-office hit with a laugh. "But I intend to see it. I'm sure it's gorgeous."

Brightman, 53, has long been enamoured by the cosmos. Space inspired her 11th studio album, Dreamchaser, which was released earlier this year.

"(Space) gave me some beautiful expanses and a gorgeous palette to work with," says the singer, who famously originated the role of Christine in the London and Broadway productions of The Phantom of the Opera. "Even the smallest sound in my voice could suddenly be very expansive."

Dreamchaser is certainly expansive, but bold is another adjective that comes to mind. Helmed by veteran British producer/engineer Mike Hedges (the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Manic Street Preachers), the surreal, evocative concept album boasts a selection of risky covers, among them Glòsòli by Icelandic experimental post-rock outfit Sigur Ròs, Breathe Me by Australian singer Sia Furler and Eperdu by Scottish alt-rockers the Cocteau Twins. They exist beautifully alongside safer bets such as Wings' Venus and Mars and contemporary classical selections such as Henryk Gòrecki's Lento E Largo from Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).

"I wanted to pick some more unusual choices," Brightman acknowledges, pointing to her English reimagining of Glòsòli by way of example. "I've always been a fan of Sigur Ròs and this piece... we've used the word 'expansive' and this piece has wonderful expanses. It evokes Iceland and the solar energies they're living among in that country."

The Cocteau Twins' song, meanwhile, speaks to a different aspect of space.

"It's all about the stars and the planets and the wildness of it all," she says. "It's about allowing your spirit to go free. There's a freedom to that song."

Brightman is on a world tour in support of Dreamchaser, which will see her perform 67 dates in three continents by the end of the year. Meanwhile, she's been completing her cosmonaut training in advance of her space flight.

"It's intense in short bursts," she says. "There are medicals again and again. There's motion-sickness training. But there are very good reasons for all of this -- and, of course, anything can happen between now and 2015. If I fail a medical, I can't go."

If she does get to go, however, she'll realize a dream she's had since she saw the grainy television footage of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969.

"I was a child of the '60s. Space was everywhere -- it was even on our cereal packets," she recalls. (It was the decade that produced The Jetsons, after all.)

"It was part of our daily lives and we were led to believe that it would be very much a part of our future. It really inspired so many people."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 G3

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