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Highlights: La Notte Etterna, Spesso Sprofondo, Un Sospir'di Voi
After selling over two million copies of her debut album, Carmine Meo, Emma Shapplin (Crystêle Madeleine Joliton) kept to the same mild gothic opera formula for Etterna. What she didn't keep was her legal contract with Pendragon Records (who owned the name Emma Shapplin) or any of her previous team, including Jean-Patrick Capdevielle who was responsible for her worldwide smash 'Spente Le Stelle'. Whatever was going on behind the recording booth, we may never know, but fans can delight in Shapplin's rebellion, as it created one of the finest albums in crossover. Etterna is almost entirely written by Shapplin, only film composer Graeme Revell stepped in to co-write six of the tracks (he previously used Shapplin for his Red Planet score). Each track is a dramatic solo aria, written in Old Italian and each dedicated to a mysterious character in Shapplin's psyche (as portrayed in the album's artwork).
Lyrics are not usually an issue in crossover, but her words (that are translated into English in the booklet) are too poetic to ignore. Inspired by Dante, the Old Italian language liberates her from the restricting rhyming verses that English can bring and enables her to write such beautiful verses as: 'Leonora?/Full of neglect?/For my soul, 'tis the night!/Is it me? But what is this wind/Which suddenly grips me/This cold wind which freezes the hillside/Oh eternal abyss!/Stay, oh Peace! Ah! I tremble!' Most of the songs are of this nature: melancholy, romantic and tragic, as opera as a form always is. 'Celtica' tells of a girl who throws herself into the sea for 'that is where Love is' and 'Mai Piú Serena' is a soliloquy of exquisite pain and loss. It is not, however, necessary to understand the lyrics to accurately determine the emotion she is trying to express.
The orchestration of swirling romanticism (provided by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and their choir) and the dark, sparsely driven beats complements Shapplin's gothic and archaic poetry. The songs often begin with elemental or atmospheric sounds underscored by subtle orchestration, such as waves, a child's giggle, thunder, wind, a pipe organ, or sweetly spoken words. There are elements of dark wave and new age in the arrangements, and whilst the drums give the music a modern twist, it still feels like it belongs to a different time, or even a different mythical world.
All of this is propelled by the vocals. Her coloratura soprano is light and pure, easily conveying innocence and emotional turmoil of the young girls she portrays. She has an immense range, naturally hitting the higher register, though her notes can become a bit distorted if taken too high; 'Aedeus' is a beautiful track, but her constant high notes in forte can become too much for a listener who's trying to relax (not that such a reflective album as this should ever be used as mere background music).
A much considered standout track for this album is the popular 'La Notte Etterna'. Its Sarah Brightman-esque choral backdrop, atmospheric beats, stunning vocal and the lush orchestration of optimism in contrast to the despairing lyrics makes it a memorable track. It's so great it's on the album twice. The second version is the inevitable radio friendly remix (which adds more beats and takes out the gorgeous choral introduction). Though all of the songs stand out in their own way (except, perhaps, the minute long 'Finale') 'Spesso, Sprofondo' is also worth a mention as the moody and oddly beated verses makes the stirring and melodic chorus all the more rewarding.
Etterna needs the full attention of its audience, and when it is given, it transports its listener to a world of myth and fantasy, but always staying true to the human emotion. The album will be adored by Sarah Brightman and symphonic metal fans for its gothic themes and perhaps by people that love the light soprano of singers like Hayley Westenra and Sissel. Either way Etterna should be approached with an open mind as, like Enya, Shapplin's sound is truly her own.
1. Un Sospir'di Voi
3. Da Me Non Venni
4. La Notte Etterna
7. La Silente Riva
8. Spesso, Sprofondo
9. Mai Piú Serena
10. Nell' Aria Bruna
12. La Notte Etterna (Remix)