Sarah Brightman and Liu Huan sing the Beijing Olympic theme song at the opening ceremony from the top of a giant globe. Around 4 billion people watched the event on television throughout the world. [YANG LEI / Beijing Review]
By Tang Yuankai
Beijing Review staff reporter
British soprano Sarah Brightman has become the first person to sing two Olympic theme songs.
She achieved the feat on August 8, in a duet at Beijing's National Stadium with Chinese singer Liu Huan.
"It's very, very special, and I'm so honored to perform at such an amazing occasion," Brightman said of her performance in front of an audience of more than 90,000 people, including heads of state, royalty and government officials from more than 80 countries. It was estimated that around 4 billion people watched the show on television worldwide.
At the closing ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Brightman performed Amigos Para Siempre, or Friends for Life, in a duet with Spanish tenor Jose Carreras. After receiving an invitation to sing in Beijing, Brightman put other work aside to come to China, said Zhang Yimou, Chief Director of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. "She worked very hard and everything was perfect."
Brightman, dressed in a long white Versace dress, she sang the theme song You and Me with Chinese vocalist Liu Huan on top of a huge globe, as fireworks exploded across Beijing. As they performed, children's smiling faces from across the world were beamed from the rim of the stadium onto 2,008 umbrellas fanned out on the central stage.
"When I came out of the globe I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes," Brightman told Reuters in an interview the day after the opening ceremony. She also said that she was moved to tears when she first heard the simple yet beautiful song, sung by children. She added that of the many performances she has been a part of, she was moved most by this one.
Brightman pointed out that despite the differences between You and Me and the theme song for the Barcelona Olympics in style and melody, the two songs share the same theme of unity among mankind. She was pleased to bring some Chinese elements into this song because of her love for Chinese music, especially Peking Opera.
Brightman also spoke highly of her duet partner, Liu, a 45-year-old singer and self-taught songwriter. Liu, who has won over many fans in China with his beautiful voice, received the invitation from the organizers less than 20 days before the opening ceremony. His only daughter is an Olympic volunteer.
Talking about his cooperation with Brightman, Liu said they both tried to find their own voice based on respect for their partner's style. "Sometimes I was guided by her style, but other times I tried an opposite approach to form an interesting contrast," said Liu.
Liu, who suffers from acrophobia (fear of heights), said the stage he performed on was more than 20 meters high, almost as tall as an eight-story building. "I told myself that I had to do it. Yet the actual feeling was not as bad as I had expected. It was like being on the roof of the world," said Liu.
Olympic theme songs are usually epic, but You and Me highlights simplicity, purity and peace. According to Liu, the composer of the song adopted an ancient Chinese method of composing, using five notes instead of seven. The simplicity and deep emotions in the song posed challenges to the singers, Liu revealed. "It requires a lot of vocal skills," he said.
Chen Qigang, an established composer based in Paris and a student of renowned French musician Olivier Messiaen, composed the song's lyrics and music. Chen was appointed as the music director of the Olympic opening ceremony last June. In July he told a press conference that the song was first composed for the moment when the Chinese national flag entered the stadium. After he sent Zhang a demo of the song played by a symphony orchestra, Zhang suggested it be used someplace else. Chen did not know that by "someplace else," Zhang meant for it to be the theme song.
You and Me lyrics:
You and me
From one world
We are family
A thousand miles
Meeting in Beijing
Put your hand in mine
You and me?
From one world
We are family
(Beijing Review August 21, 2008)