Ennio Morricone has always been one of film music’s most intensely lyrical composers. Indefatigably writing one great theme after the other through over five decades and a few hundred scores. Morricone’s soulful, longing melodies have always come across like songs just waiting to happen, a feeling often reinforced by the wordlessly haunting, female vocals of Edda Dell’Orso. But when it’s come to doing an actual songbook based on Il Maestro’s work, Italian chanteuse Romina Arena has done a yeoman job of making Morricone her own, with a number of beautiful tunes that don’t play so much as film music set to lyrics as they do as transfixing tales of female empowerment, “I Will Survive” the Ennio way if you will.
Internationally known for her crossover work in the “Popera” field, Arena can now consider herself an innovator at transforming score into songs. Sure “Morricone. Uncovered” isn’t the first time this has been attempted, as film soundtracks have long tried to turn their main themes into chart-topping songs upon a picture’s release. Though this album is long after the fact for the films it draws from, Arena’s channeling of the instrumentals into her own sonorous poetry makes the melodies entirely fresh. Better yet, Arena’s choices from Ennio’s boundless repertoire are far from the obvious picks. While American fans will likely be impressed with how well recognizable pieces from ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, THE UNTOUCHABLES and CASUALTIES OF WAR tenderly take flight anew, a great deal of the songs draw from Ennio’s European repertoire like LA PIOVRA, MALENA and LE PROFESSIONEL giving the album a true sense of discovery. Singing in English, Italian and French, Romina Arena’s voice has a truly beautiful quality, as do her own lyrics about broken love, sacrifice and personal perseverance, making the album as much about one woman’s personal journey as her own interpretation of a composer who’s inspired so many artists like her.
It’s no wonder that Morricone has personally approved Arena’s tribute, which one can easily imagine being done on the concert stage, especially given its impressive production values (recorded at studios the world over) that range from the intimacy of a piano and strings to the emotional rush of a booming orchestra. It’s done very much in the “Popera” tradition of switching between more contemporary uptempo arrangements and classically symphonic renditions, which comes through powerfully with Arena’s duet alongside Marcello Giordani for “Per Amore.” But then, every aspect of “Morricone. Uncovered” impresses with its passion, right down its lavish booklet filled with impressionistic artwork by Melinda Surga. Well worth picking up for Morricone diehards and casual listeners alike, “Morricone. Uncovered” goes beyond a singular composer to reveal just how well film music can be interpreted for a whole new Arena.
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