UCF Arena, Orlando FL • November 14, 2008
Carl F Gauze
This was my second trip out to UCF this week, and by now I had figured out the parking hassles and where to find the box office. “Light Up UCF” was in full swing with decorated palm trees and an ice rink full of wobbly skaters. Obviously none of these students have ever parallel parked in a snow drift, but I give them points for trying to stand up on ice – they gave a nice pre-show while we went through the security screening. Inside, a close to sell-out crowd filled the narrow aisles of the Arena eagerly poised for one of the truly amazing voices of our day.
With 30 years of show business under her belt and 15 years married to Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Brightman should know a thing to two about theatre, and she made this cavernous space a fairy land for a few hours. Brightman is the rare talent than can mix classical, pop, and opera, and sing it while dancing on 6-inch high heels. Her costume changed about every five songs, and a crack team of eight lithe dancers filled in while she changed from flowing red vampire princess dress to an Esther Williams one-piece swimsuit to a tiny doll Christmas dress. Her stage setting was full of visual trickery — front and rear projections gave her a constantly shifting backdrop, almost as if each song had been arranged as a live MTV style video. Ms. Brightman appeared and disappeared in the most unlikely places, and between the clever choreography and distracting dancers, it’s as if she was performing in her own Siegfried and Roy style magic act.
We opened with “Will I Ever Be Free” and a sub-floor wind machine that kept her enormous slinky red dress modestly floating around her head. At times she looked like she was enveloped by an giant jellyfish, but she managed to project a mild eroticism along with the no-nonsense impression she was in charge, no matter what she looked like. On the backdrop was a still projection reminiscent of Saruman’s Tower from Lord of The Rings. As she blasted into “Let it Rain” and “What A Wonderful World,” the scenery changed from Middle Earth to Edo, Japan. Like a good three ring circus, there was always something to watch, including shadowy back stage musicians and four follow spot technicians up in the murky rafters. Not every song was identifiable to the dabbler in Sara Brightman, but I was captivated by the haunting cover of Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind.” It’s one of the great existentialist rockers, made even more otherworldly by the backdrop of a twinkling LED curtain. That cut to what I consider the highlight of the show, an operatic number with Ms. Brightman apparently suspended half-way up to the rafters, yet underwater and surrounded by swimming mermaids. It was literally smoke and mirrors, but that effect alone was worth the ticket. Her design team is as brilliant as she is.
While this impressive stage magic lit up the stage, the audience was drooling for her most famous number, Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” She sang the duet with Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, a voice just as impressive as hers. That was his only number, and she had another one-shot guy in reserve for “Ave Maria,” countertenor Fernando Lima. It’s her name on the bill, but these two guys were wasted with only one number each. As the concert neared its end, we experienced the holiday numbers “Christmas Dream” and “All In My Mind” complete with stage snow, live toy soldiers, and Ms. Brightman as a miniature music box doll. Just as the moon looks smaller the farther it gets off the horizon, doll-Sarah was a visual trick, but quite impressive.
Visually this concert was a gem, but the sound was another story. In a building meant to house sporting events, a show mixing opera and rock and roll gets confused. The echoey, reflective surfaces distorted the bass and mushed up the highs. Excessive volume added to the problem — in the lower bowl seats the levels were often Led Zeppelin painful. Ms. Brightman’s voice often sounded muddy with words smeared from difficult-to-control sound paths. It’s slightly worse than the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in downtown Orlando, but at least the Carr lacks a suspended score board and its unpredictable resonances. That’s a shame. Ms. Brightman is a wonderful soprano and deserves a better sounding hall.
Sarah Brightman: www.sarah-brightman.com