Harem: A Desert Fantasy (Sarah Brightman)
EMI Records // Unrated // $24.98 // February 24, 2004
Review by Don Houston | posted March 21, 2004
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Movie: Music is one of the most subjective areas of entertainment to review. Some people enjoy the disco divas like Kylie Minogue, others the hard-hitting rockers like Pat Benatar, and still others the new age style of Berlin. Depending on how much you enjoy the particular artist, the specifics tend to matter less than in a general movie review so take the following with an extra large grain of salt. I obtained a copy of Sarah Brightman: Harem: A Desert Fantasy for review and found it interesting on a few levels, here's what I thought:

The show was a special made for television that was filmed all over the Middle East, including Egypt and Morocco. The DVD compliments the audio CD by providing a number of lush visuals of the talented Ms. Brightman singing her usual style of new-age pop with a lot of Middle Eastern flavor this time, including instruments and backup singers, as well as a host of belly dancers and harem scenes and desert landscapes.

Those who are familiar with the performer's works will know that she is best known for her starring role in the play, Phantom Of The Opera, written with her in mind by her then-husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber. The range of her voice is similar to Pat Benatar, a trained opera singer herself, and her experimentation with musical styles over the years has yielded a similarity to the 70's/80's British diva Kate Bush or perhaps a lighter version of Danielle Dax (a personal favorite) or Robin Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. In her 40's, the gal still has a good set of pipes and while no one is going to accuse her of providing a deep, meaningful set of songs, it was pleasant fluff to listen to and watch. Here's a list of the songs included, with a few from other sources:

1) Harem (Cancao Do Mar)
2) Beautiful
3) Mysterious Days
4) Anytime, Anywhere (2003 version)
5) It's A Beautiful Day
6) Free
7) The War Is Over
8) What You Never Know
9) Stranger In Paradise
10) Nessun Dorma (La Luna Live In Concert)
11) What A Wonderful World
12) The Journey Home
13) Time To Say Goodbye (2003 version)

I thought this was a pretty good DVD that many people might enjoy as elevator music, which is why I'm praising it with a rating of Rent It. Fans will undoubtedly be ecstatic that she has released another set of her songs in the DVD format and want to think of it as a must-have DVD. It would've been better had it been longer, included more extras, and provided more clarity on the focus (I suspect why that was done), but it wasn't bad to watch once.

Picture: The picture was presented in it's original widescreen ratio of 1.85:1. It had a lot of stylish effects that lent it a dreamy air but it lacked the crisp quality that I prefer in my videos. Admittedly, the colors were deep and rich, the scenery beautiful and the grain minimal, but it lacked any substance too. I saw no artifacts when viewing the show.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English track or a more common 2.0 Dolby Digital English track. The 5.1 track had substantially more depth but the rear speakers rarely engaged and the separation between the channels wasn't always as good as it should have been. The bass was solid in most cases and Sarah's voice sounded exactly like it always does (whether that's good or bad depends on your taste in music), even as she advances in years.

Extras: The primary extra was a Behind the Scenes featurette lasting about 31 minutes. It showed Ms. Brightman and the crew at various locations, setting up the equipment and otherwise making the show. There wasn't a lot of great insight into the mind of her or the director but the scenery was nice. The other extra was a photogallery that lasted a couple of minutes of minimal value.

Final Thoughts: Those who suggest Ms. Brightman's voice grates on your nerves like fingernails on a blackboard are not completely fair in their assessment as demonstrated by this DVD. The visuals were interesting and she did a good job of providing the type of music she's known for, with a Middle Eastern touch this time. In short, Harem: A Desert Fantasy was exactly like it was meant to be, a tribute to other styles, mixed with her own unique blend of high-end vocals.

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