If you’re a fan of Christmas music (and who isn’t?), then you
may have heard the rich, practiced soprano voice of New Zealander Hayley
Westenra. With a range that is unique to
so few trained vocalists, Ms. Westenra has earned the appreciation of her
In 2008, Westenra
released an enduring album of largely traditional Christmas classics called
Winter Magic. What makes the offerings
on Winter Magic stand out, even beyond the incredible Sarah Brightman, who has
also enjoyed a pop/classical crossover with her soprano voice, is Westenra’s ability to rein in her voice to achieve a distinct pop quality
somewhat separate from her entrancing classical voice.
And there’s the in-between. She can step it up a notch to deliver endearing reinterpreted versions of popular songs like Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," both heard on her 2005 treasure, Odyssey.
Westenra's musical biography begins at a young age. When she was 12, her ability to sing had encouraged the family to have her recorded. Soon afterward, she was offered a recording contract with Universal Music of New Zealand. While that did not gain her worldwide attention, it did lead her toward the inevitable path that she has since followed, a career in music as a rare talent with a soprano voice.
In 2003, Decca Records recorded her world debut, Pure, a satisfying multi-track album of excellence that, even now, begs to be enjoyed and appreciated. Pure captivates immediately with her rendition of “Pokarekare Ana,” a touching traditional love song from New Zealand. Pure explores traditional roots further with her recording of “Amazing Grace.” The song, while well-exposed, can be gripping springing from the vocal cords of such as Hayley Westenra. Other songs from Pure include the airy “Wuthering Heights” and a few Christmas classics tucked within (“Silent Night, Holy Night,” “Away in a Manger”) amidst a collection of well selected songs. (The Christmas tracks are found on the two-CD UK Special Edition).
Her subsequent albums, Odyssey (2005), with its split between classical and pop tracks (likely in an effort to provide crossover appeal), and the more exploratory Treasure (2007), reveal a growing talent that will someday be known to everyone. Her previously mentioned Winter Magic was a departure in depth by comparison, yet it served to open a new door with the 'by now' recognition that Miss Westenra could mold her voice like putty to achieve the sound that she wanted.
On October 18, Decca Records will release her anticipated new album, Paradiso, in the US. But her native New Zealand has already been given the gift on April 18, while Japan and Australia gained access in the early weeks of June. The UK receives the album on August 29.
Paradiso is a collaboration with Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who has called Miss Westenra, “ a rare singer unique in the international panorama a great interpreter.” On Paradiso, Westenra lends her voice to well-known classics of Morricone's such as “Once Upon A Time In the West” from the film of the same name, “Malena,” “Cinema Paradiso: Profumo Di Limone,” and “Cinema Paradiso: Would He Even Know Me Now?” from the Tornatorre films Malena and Cinema Paradiso, and the theme from the 1986 film, The Mission, “Gabriel’s Oboe (Whispers In A Dream).”
Some of the songs feature new tracks written by Morricone exclusively to frame Westenra's voice in timeless classics. A few of the Morricone songs sung by Hayley Westenra received new lyrics, some by the singer herself (“Gabriel’s Oboe”), and some by others (“Cinema Paradiso: Would He Even Know Me Now?”, lyrics by Oscar winner Don Black, and new lyrics written for “The Edge of Love” by Oscar winner, Tim Rice).Paradiso is sure to elevate the 24-year-old Hayley Westenra to further fame, and is a release that I’m very anxious to own.