Italian expat singer and Malibu resident Romina Arena has overcome many obstacles on the path to success.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
Malibu is now host to a recording artist that has sold more than four million albums, toured internationally, performed with artists such as Andrea Bocelli, and sung for President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II; and you’ve probably never heard her name.
Romina Arena has long been on the radar in Europe and the Far East, winning accolades for her soaring (five octave range) brand of “Popera” (a mash up of pop and opera) and garnering Italy’s top artistic awards.
Last week, she released her 14th album that represents a first in recorded musical history-a compilation of music by the Oscar-winning film composer Ennio Morricone, famous for Sergio Leone films like “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Untouchables,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Malena” and dozens of others (in 2007, he won the Academy Honorary Award for his “magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music”). However for this album, Arena wrote the lyrics herself, in four different languages.
“Maestro Morricone has always been a huge influence and inspiration for my music from the time I was a little girl,” Arena said. “This was the greatest honor for me to record his music with my lyrics.”
Arena’s musical story began early. She was a Mouseketeer for the Italian version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, “Topolino,” by age four. Working with international talent at such a young age allowed Arena to learn to sing in 10 languages, and by the time she was a teenager, she was touring and recording around the world.
While waiting backstage to perform in a television broadcast at the age of 16, she was attacked by a fellow performer and suffered a severe cut to her throat. She was comatose for months and, when she finally awoke, unable to speak, let alone sing. As if the attack was not enough, her father had just died, crashing his car while on his way to see her for the first time in 12 years.
“I was devastated, my life was over,” Arena said. “The doctors told me I would never sing again. I didn’t speak at all for three years and had to write everything down. But I had three surgeries and speech therapy and one day I woke up and my voice was back.”
She also woke up with two more octaves added to her upper range. She made up for lost time by touring, writing, scoring film soundtracks and video games, and working with a variety of Grammy-winning music producers. But her one, long-desired project didn’t materialize until last year.
“I had always loved the music of the great Ennio Morricone,” Arena said. “He is a legend in Italy and I wanted to meet him.”
When Arena was 12 years old, a director friend had arranged for her to meet the great maestro. Her mother accompanied her to Morricone’s Rome villa, where they were greeted by the entire Morricone family. Arena tremblingly told him her dream was to sing his music. Morricone obligingly listened to a tape the youngster had brought, then told her to come back and see him after she had learned her craft and achieved some success.
Flash forward 20 years and Arena has become an international recording star. Last year, she signed with a new agent, who also happened to represent Morricone. A meeting was arranged.
Morricone received Arena in the same palatial villa (actress Sophia Loren was the former proprietor) of 20 years previous. Crying and shaking, she asked him, “Maestro, do you remember me?”
In fact, he didn’t. But she reminded him of what he had told her all those years ago and he escorted her to a private room to listen to her latest CD.
By the second song, he told her, “You’re the most dominant voice I’ve heard today.”
“I knew I could now die happy,” Arena said. “So I told him I wanted to write lyrics to some of his best soundtracks and record a CD. He said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Arena worked closely with Morricone’s son, Giovanni, submitting songs and adjusting words and feelings, all while working in four languages. They recorded the album internationally as well, working in Budapest with the Dohnanyi Orchestra Budafok, and in studios in Italy, Canada and the U.S.
The album, just released in the U.S. on the Perseverance Records label, is titled “Morricone. Uncovered.” Arena plans to tour with the music next year.
When asked why he decided to collaborate with Arena at this time, Morricone responded by email, “I decided to work with her because of her hard work and incredible successes achieved. But most importantly, I consider her the most dominant voice I have heard in my life. I do not allow just any artist to write lyrics to my movie scores. But for her I make the exception.”
It all adds up to a time of success for Arena, who first became acquainted with Malibu after working with producers in Los Angeles and loved it. Next month she will move into a permanent home in the Paradise Cove area.
“I love living in Malibu,” Arena said. “It’s the closest thing to the Amalfi Coast to me. And the greatest people live here. They’re down to Earth. When I need to calm down and center myself, I like to be in Malibu.”