CLASSICAL singer Russell Watson has a new zest for life, having battled brain tumour twice (in 2006 and 2007) and survived.
The 42-year-old from Manchester, England is delighted to be performing in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with Starhill Gallery’s “A Journey Through Time 2008” (a 11-day exhibition of luxury watches and jewellery showcase).
He performs at Feast Village until tomorrow, showtime is from 10pm onwards.
Watson, whose meteoric rise to international singing stardom was due to his profound rendition of Nessun Dorma in 1999, promises a fresh and entertaining show this time around.
It also marks his first concert out of the United Kingdom in the last three years, having had to put his international career on hold because of his ill health.
In 2005, Watson delighted Malaysian audiences with his powerful rendition of popular cover songs and classic numbers at YTL 50th Anniversary Concert of Celebration, held on a custom-built three-level stage in Sentul Park, Kuala Lumpur in front of 6,000 people.
“It’s great to be back in Kuala Lumpur. I haven’t been able to perform anywhere else with me getting better and then falling sick again. So, yes, I am excited to return and entertain my fans here,” he said in an interview here early this week, adding that there are plans for a tour next year which will cover the United States and Asia.
Following a successful recovery from tumour, Watson performed a sell-out 17-day British tour this year.
He was also head judge on BBC’s hit show Last Choir Standing, where he helped select England’s favourite choir.
He released his ninth album entitled People Get Ready two weeks ago. The album, which is a collection of his favourite soul songs, has gone gold, with 108,000 copies sold to date.
“This album reflects a period of my life where everything seemed carefree. This is the material that goes back to my childhood. I grew up listening to this kind of music,” he said.
Watson will be back in Kuala Lumpur for the release of this album, early next year.
His earlier albums have all gone gold, platinum or double platinum. He has four Classic BRIT Awards and is recognised worldwide as UK’s biggest-selling classical artiste of the 21st century.
He has broken a succession of records, being the first British male to simultaneously occupy a No. 1 spot in the UK and American classical charts, as well as being the first artiste to have an album at the top spot in the UK classical charts for an entire year.
Describing his second battle with brain tumour, Watson who is known to his fans as “The People’s Tenor”, said that just when he thought he was recovering from the first one, he started getting headaches again and fell sick.
“The pain was worse the second time around as the tumour was haemorrhaging. I was rushed to the hospital and I was in the critical unit for days. I was very ill, my hair fell out and my face swelled up because of steroids.
“It was touch-and-go. Thankfully, I made it,” he said, adding that, only for the last eight months that he is feeling like himself again.
But, Watson, who has performed before presidents, prime ministers, the late Pope John Paul II and royalty, said that he could never feel completely recovered because he still has to take a daily concoction of medication.
Nevertheless, having gone through that period of uncertainty, he now embraces life like never before.
“I believe you can only truly understand life and have full appreciation of it if you have been on the brink of death. Now I value life more and have a complete regard for my friends and family. My life has changed for the better.
“I feel blessed. I don’t feel lucky at what I’ve been through but I feel fortunate to have gone through it. People say I’m heroic and brave, but I don’t see myself as such because this wasn’t something that I chose to have.”
Watson never stops thinking about his mortality. He is more spiritual, and that translates into better performances.
“I have a better understanding of life and what I do for a living… it has more meaning to it now. I have a real appreciation of what I do now, rather than what I used to do – sing a couple of songs, get the money and leave,” he said.
At “A Journey Through Time 2008”, Watson joins international and local award-winning music virtuosos such as renowned flutist Andrea Griminelli, multiple-award singer Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and R&B songstress Ning Baizura.
The event is the second collaboration between Starhill Gallery and Tourism Malaysia, following last year’s successful venture in hosting Asia’s largest luxury watch and jewellery showcase.
Backed by symphony orchestra Starhill Gallery Symphonietta, Watson sings 10 songs, a repertoire of classical music with a little bit of swing.
On whether he will be singing Nessun Dorma, one of the best known tenor arias in opera, Watson said: “I never get away with not doing it. Everywhere I go, audiences will be screaming for me to include it. The song follows me everywhere.”
Watson, an avid fan of Frank Sinatra, will also perform songs by the late crooner such as Strangers in the Night in his hour-long repertoire.
“I may make a few changes to my repertoire. But not too many because it’s a lot of stuff for a man who has had two brain surgeries to remember, you know,” he joked.
Catch performance by Ning Baizura on Dec 8 and 9, Siti Nurhaliza on Dec 10 and Andrea Griminelli from Dec 11-14.
New Straits Times