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Classic FM Drive with John Brunning 5pm - 7pm
14 November 2018, 15:47 | Updated: 14 November 2018, 16:01
The famous soprano returns with her first album in five years, ‘Hymn’, which has been two years in the making. She tells us how a dystopian world inspired her to create her most spiritual work to date.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
Sitting in the kitchen at a yellow formica table with heavy overhead lighting – it was in the 60s. It was early in the morning and my mother wanted to have the radio on. And of course in those days you'd have a piece of Rachmaninov played beside ‘What's New Pussycat’ by Tom Jones. Those are my earliest memories.
Why did you decide to become a singer?
I never made the decision, it was always there. My mother told me I was singing before I was talking and I was able to play the piano by ear from a really early age as well.
What’s been the high point of your career so far?
Oh gosh, there are so many! Although it's not the most perfect piece of work, I love my then-husband [Andrew Lloyd Webber]'s work Requiem. It was a beautiful piece to work on – it was quite challenging because it's an emotional piece, a religious piece. I'm sure that nowadays he would say “I could have done this better”, but it was a piece of its time and also it was very much me, Plácido Domingo and Lorin Maazel at our prime.
Why did you decide on a spiritual theme for your new album, ‘Hymn’?
Well I came out of the Russian space programme and I really needed some time to get myself grounded again, get myself back to singing. So I rented a little house on the beach in a hot place, and I took an opera coach friend of mine to come and work with me for a few months. It gave me time to reflect on a lot of things, because having been in all the space stuff, my whole perspective of everything had changed.
My long-term producer Frank Peterson said: “Look, I think it's time that you got yourself back into recording because it's obvious you've been enlightened with all of this that you've been doing.”
And I said: “I've come back into quite a dystopian world at the moment – everybody’s become uneasy about the future. I'd really like to work with lots of beautiful human voices and choirs.” There's a beautiful thread that happens through human beings when they're singing together. After two years of researching we came up with the album, 'Hymn'.
Why did you decide to include the song ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ on the album?
Andrea [Bocelli] and I sang it in quite a grand way but I think the lyrics translated from Italian are very intimate. So I wanted to just do this with piano accompaniment and to sing it in English. Of course the last part, where you have to open up with the voice and the orchestra, does become more grand and more operatic. But the song sits well with the intimacy of the lyrics.
You’ve partnered with Swarovski for your upcoming tour – why did you decide to work with them?
I've been using Swarovski crystals on my beautiful gowns for years because a lot of my music itself is quite spiritual. The crystals not only brought the costumes out but they also added a sort of extra reflective dimension to everything. And when I was asked if I'd be interested in doing this, I thought actually, this would completely make sense, especially for this particular piece of work.
Swarovski has created a custom-made tiara for you. Can you describe it?
Nothing in my life has been particularly calculative. That's probably why I've been an initiator of a lot of these pieces of music which are then carried on by other artists. So I felt that the tiara they made for me should be very organic – it twists and turns and has a very organic feel.
The world is very politically divided at the moment – especially North America, where you’ll be touring next year. What role can music play in a divided world?
My role in this is to entertain people and help them escape for two hours in the wonder of music and the beauty that you can get on stage and to take them somewhere else. For me, I think it's a wonderful thing and I feel very privileged that audiences will buy a ticket, take the time to come to a venue, to sit and watch you. So for me it's about giving as much as I possibly can to give them that pleasure for those couple of hours.
Is there anything you wish you’d been told when you were just starting out in your career?
You have to work your own way through being a musician – find what's best for you. Because we can all train, we can all find the right teacher. But it's that extra metaphysical part which is the part that attracts the audience at the end of the day. And that's what your instinct tells you.