Talented singing actress Anna O’Byrne dazzles with the range and beauty of her crystalline soprano in her debut album Dream, an eclectic collection of gorgeous songs from movies.
The scope of O’Byrne’s ability is reflected in the variety of artists who first sang the songs covered on Dream. Composition of the selected songs stretches back over more than eight decades, with the list of original singers including Madonna, Julie Andrews, Sarah McLachlan, Shirley Bassey and Kate Winslet.
Born in Melbourne, O’Byrne began her professional career with Victorian Opera before rising to prominence in the lead role of Christine Daaé in the Australian premiere of Love Never Dies. The production played Melbourne and Sydney and was filmed for international release. Since moving to London, O’Byrne has appearerd in productions including The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre), Barnum (Chichester Festival Theatre) and ENO’s Sweeney Todd (Coliseum). O’Byrne is currently starring as Sarah Brown in the UK tour of Guys and Dolls.
Last year, O’Byrne returned to Australia to star as Maria in The Production Company’s acclaimed season of West Side Story.
Bypassing the step where beginning artists record an album with only piano as accompaniment, O’Byrne is backed by a lush orchestra under the highly experienced baton of musical director Guy Simpson.
Far from simply a collection of well-known movie standards, Dream features lesser-known gems along with fresh arrangements that shed new light of popular favourites. Orchestrator Jason Carr has arranged “Diamonds are Forever” to sound like it might have been written for Candide’s Cunegonde to sing. “Blue Moon” is enlivened with a late night jazz club sound. Allowing an opportunity for vocal collaborators, Carr has adapted two songs into duets.
O’Byrne reunites with Ben Lewis, her Love Never Dies co-star, for a particularly striking arrangement of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring,” from State Fair (1945). The pair begins by singing a capella with intricately woven harmonies, before moving on to bring plaintive longing to a song that is generally performed with a chirpy and upbeat feel.
For the evergreen classic “As Time Goes By,” which was actually written 11 years before its unforgettable use in Casablanca (1941), O’Byrne is joined by Canadian soprano Rebecca Caine, who originated the role of Cosette in Les Misérables. While both singers are sopranos, their voices achieve an exquisite blend like that of a soprano and mezzo-soprano in the famous “Flower Duet” from Lakmé.
O’Byrne demonstrates a breathy, sultry passion in “Sooner or Later,” which listeners may remember as being sung by Madonna in Dick Tracy (1990) but may not be aware was written by Stephen Sondheim. “Weep You No More, Sad Fountain” sounds like a centuries old classical song but is actually a seventeenth century poem that was set to music by composer Patrick Doyle for Kate Winslet to sing as Marianne Dashwood accompanies herself on the harpsichord in Sense and Sensibility (1995).
O’Byrne revisits what is arguably her greatest hit by singing the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies (2011). Featured use of harp and violin contributes to an exquisite track that highlights the power of O’Byrne’s voice right across her wide vocal range.
The album concludes with a pair of true beauties. “Crazy World” is a charming but little known gem from Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse’s musical score for Victor Victoria (1982). O’Byrne achieves the same pristine diction and delicate longing heard in the original version by Julie Andrews. Sarah McLachlan sang Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” in the heartbreaking sequence in Toy Story 2 (1999) in which cowgirl doll Jessie remembers her first owner. The song is the perfect example of O’Byrne’s heady mixture of gorgeous vocal tone and detailed vocal expression. These combined qualities elevate the album above and beyond pleasant but undistinguished easy listening music.
O’Byrne’s fans across the globe are sure to savour Dream, and the album will equally be enjoyed by lovers of fine music.
Anna O’Byrne: Dream is available from iTunes.
Photos: #2 Johan Persson, #3-5 Jeff Busby