A decade on from her New Zealand-only self-titled debut album, and Christchurch's finest, 23-year-old Hayley Westenra, can no longer rely on the angelic-looking choirgirl persona which helped her replace Charlotte Church as the world's most successful young soprano. But having achieved quite the coup by recruiting legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone for her fifth album (and first non-seasonal studio release since 2007's "Treasure"), "Paradiso", it's unlikely that she would have had to, anyway.
Recorded with the 120-piece Roma Sinfonietta in their hometown, its 13 tracks are a world away from her usual fare of traditional hymns, operatic standards and classical pop numbers, revealing a maturity and creative streak lacking from most of her contemporaries.
Indeed, perhaps to establish her songwriting credentials, Morricone has allowed several of his most famous compositions to be rewritten by the now-grownup star, including one of his most famous pieces, "Gabriel's Oboe" (now "Whispers in a Dream"), and the themes to 1970 films "La Califfa" and "Malena", all of which show she's more than up to the rather imposing job.
The less obvious song selections also indicate Westenra is no longer content to follow the crowd, with only the soothing harmonies of "Jill's Theme" ("Once Upon a Time in the West"), the beautifully lilting vocal adaptation of "Deborah's Theme" ("Once Upon a Time In America") and the string-soaked "Profumo di Limone" and "Would He Ever Know Me Now?" (both from "Cinema Paradiso"), likely to be familiar to mainstream audiences.
Instead, the album rummages around the more obscure corners of Morricone's back catalog, with contributions from 1968 sci-fi comedy H2S (the whimsical scale-climbing "Lezione di Musica"), the docudrama "Sacco e Vanzelli" (Joan Baez's slow-building protest song "Here's to You"), and 1969's "Metti una Sera a Cena" (the bossa nova-tinged title track), sitting alongside a cover of Dulce Pontes' Portuguese-sung "Amalia por Amor," and two new tracks, the Disney-esque French festive tale, "Per Natale," and the Tim Rice-penned potential show tune, "The Edge of Love".
A huge leap forward from her previous attempts, "Paradiso" suggests Westenra may be a far more intriguing proposition outside her teenage years than she was during them. J. O'Brien