Ennio Morricone has spent 50 years solidifying his reputation as arguably the greatest film composer of all time, an unstoppable force crossing genres and combining styles at will. Hayley Westenra, a silver-voiced doll with an operatic style that prides itself on safety and decorum, has spent 10 years establishing herself as New Zealand’s answer to Charlotte Church. The collision of the two is about as disappointingly staid and dreary as you might expect, with Westenra’s heavily MOR-slanted approach winning out over Morricone’s experimental leanings, a fact evidenced by the album’s big sales overseas.
What inevitably makes Paradiso bearable is that most of the tracks here are Morricone’s own compositions, familiar songs subjected to a little tweaking, in some cases gaining lyrics and new arrangements. On a few of these tracks, Westenra’s angelic presence is a welcome addition, enlivening the already sweet strains of the theme from Once Upon a Time in the West. But too often there’s the sense that the songs have undergone a kind of restructuring by committee, and the tenor of the new material is invariably flat. Tracks like the Tim Rice-penned “The Edge of Love” are particularly cloying, with Westenra sounding like a Disney character from one of the studio’s straight-to-video sequels. Her voice is up to the task, but the weakness of the material turns the mixture of weepy strings and half-assed lyrics into something syrupy and foul.
The cover songs are an equally mixed bag: Morricone’s own “Amalia Por Amor,” originally sung by Dulce Pontes, is given a serviceably operatic transformation, while “Here’s to You” finds the two turning Joan Baez’s original into a too-serious, dramatically bad showtune. In the end, none of this material really comes close to approaching the majesty of Morricone’s previous work, and though Westenra seems game in her attempts to match the whims of this cinematic master, Morricone’s listlessness and Westenra’s archly dull style make for a pretty drab combination.