Sarah Brightman’s “Hymn” Arrives At Radio City Music Hall, Wednesday, February 6th, 2019, Reviewed
In the high-low axiom of classical musical and mainstream culture, the English soprano Sarah Brightman brought her Hymn concert, an 125 date behemoth world tour, to a quarter empty Radio City Music Hall last night. A string orchestra, a large choir, her own small band, and two tenors and a Japanese classical composer, joined Sarah for a two and a half hour (including intermission) one part retrospective, one part introduction to her current album, performance. It is to her credit that one of the shows highlights was a falsetto reaching “The Phantom Of The Opera” and the other the 1977 Barclay James Harvest composed version of “Hymn”. So from the mid-1980s career highlight to her let 2018 release was just a small walk for the major crossover artist.
Although Radio City is a relatively small venue and I am in the 2nd Mezz, I can still not really see Sarah: for some, terrible, reason, she is yet another artist who doesn’t think people need to see who they are watching. But in pictures Sarah is in good shape and her voice is a pristine instrument, very comfortable as a soprano and capable of the aria version of dropping the bass when she soars on her falsetto.
Sarah is an oddly unassuming presence, almost an anti-diva despite around ten (extremely rapid) costume changes and her position as one of the top singers, with the skills to go from opera lite and opera and bac. The tour is a Disneyish vision of excess including the creation of a custom tiara for Sarah to wear during her performances, the application of over 600,000 brilliant Swarovski crystals to adorn the costumes Sarah will wear on stage during her tour, and more stuff that runs the gauntlet of opera as an aristocracy of itself even as Sarah attempts to balance her earliest pop instincts, from an early song from “Kismet” to a late real hymn, hym, sarah wants to be everything within a certain set of strictures; when you look at how Renee Fleming has been rebranding herself the past couple of years, Sarah is the template. But Renee has a stronger voice, despite the shading and distinction of her singing, Sarah is a little weak, it soars without enticing, it is impressive but it isn’t overwhelming, she lacks presence and comes across a little too Queen Mum-y. It’s not all there.
My friend John Witt, who had seen her last week as well, claimed the muffled vibe was probably due to bad mics, but that doesn’t take into account how great Vincent Niclo sounded, so if it wasn’t that perhaps it’s a question of the setlist itself. The first part isn’t very hot, though her “Stranger In Paradise” is specifically lovely and it was a pleasure to see Yoshikii join her for “Miracles” to close the half. Still, perhaps Sarah should do more pop material. The second half is all forward momentum, a terrific “Pei Sui” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem” is introduced with the legend that she knows him pretty well, and indeed was married to Andrew when he composed it as a smaller song, Sarah played piano on a lovely and gentle moment. A little later she segues from her huge hit (featuring Andrea Bocelli on record, one of the fastest selling singles ever) “Time To Say Goodbye” to the choir based “Masquerade” and the one we have been waiting, the proof that Sarah is still Sarah, “The Phantom Of The Opera”.
It wasn’t an unpleasant evening yet it was also a trick evening, like Sarah’s crossover skills, or Andrew himself, it appeared to be high culture but it was shabby around the edges. Her voice couldn’t carry the evening and her twitty speaking voice was beyond irritating. Her father was a businessman, but England isn’t the US and class is birth right not purchasable, so in that way she is overreaching the same way Andrew has always overreached, they are pretenders at fine art, but their skills are elsewhere. Only time manages to make it acceptable, only time makes this faux opera the real deal.