From Sicily with love. An exclusive interview with singer, songwriter, and producer Romina Arena
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Ennio Morricone stated: “Romina is the most dominant female singer I have ever heard.” She is the only known female “Tenorette” in the world; if there were such a thing as a female tenor, this would best describe her. Defined by many as a musical pioneer, she started at a young age to perform a genre of music known as “Popera” (pop-classical crossover), a very high-end genre of music, and commercially accessible.
Romina is currently working on her autobiography and a major motion picture about her remarkable inspiring life story is currently being developed by an 8-time Oscar-winning producer. We sat down for a chat…
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You were a Mouseketeer for many years. How was that experience and was it the foundation for your singing talent?
Romina Arena: Absolutely! Being part of a magical company such as Disney as only four years old into my early teens has been one of the greatest experiences of my life! Disney is a company that has launched so many wonderful talents, and it has been definitely one of my greatest foundations and inspiration. Being only 5 years old and learning how to sing, dance, and also thanks to the constant travel from Italy to various European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Portugal, has helped me with learning a multitude of languages (today I write, speak and sing fluently in ten different languages), has built in me a sense of internationality if I can use this term, opening me up to the world and transforming me into a cosmopolitan, therefore opening many doors to the international music market.
I was classically trained as a ballerina, dancing also at the tender age of 7 years old in prestigious theatres throughout Italy till even appearing on a special tv reportage with Carla Fracci, the famous Prima Ballerina, as I was chosen among thousands of little girls ballerinas, to be the best of all and of course appear in such TV special with Carla Fracci, who was my idol.
I wanted to be a classical ballerina, that was truly my first love and my mother did so many sacrifices to send me to one of the best ballet schools in Sicily with one of the greatest classical ballet couches, the great Milena Mirri Dispenza. However, since I was raised by a single mother and a truly absent father, and I was making money for our small family, I had to make a choice that was going to guarantee us a stronger income, so with a strong heartbreak and sadness, I had to abandon my dream of becoming a famous ballerina and I continued working with the great Walt Disney Company and still to this day I star, create and executive produce major American and international TV specials for this wonderful company and its major American TV network ABC and ESPN, with millions of viewers of my TV shows and music all over the world!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You suffered a vicious attack at the hands of a jealous entertainer at the backstage of a primetime television show when you were just fifteen years old. How did that tragic incident alter and influence your life?
Romina Arena: This is always a very sad episode of my life for me, no matter how many times I did talk about it. No doubt that anyone who goes through such a horrific personal physical attack, would remain scarved for life, but even though it has caused some serious injuries to my vocal cords, my brain, and my eyes, because of the heavy beating, I never lost trust in people and I decided to live my life in a full and complete magnificent way; I realized that hope is greater than fear and that instead than focusing on the negative experience of that moment, I can take the whole experience and utilize it to inspire people of all walks of life, that no matter what happens to you, you can bounce back from anything that life throws at you. We are stronger than we think, and with faith in God and determination, we can fuel ourselves and become a great inspiration for the underdogs and those who lose track, especially when a tragedy happens to us. It’s the way that we react to things that make us grow. I was approached a few years ago by a major 8-time Oscar-winning Hollywood film producer, as he wanted to turn my life story into a major motion picture; I did not want to at the beginning, but then I realized that if my story can truly help anyone to react from any difficult challenge, then it is all worth it! Now we are working on this movie, which will also have a major Broadway musical, also in development, and a book!
I constantly travel around the world visiting many schools and universities, bringing a message of hope and resilience. I love to see the face of younger people lighten up and believe in the power of their dreams; there are bad people out there, but there are also some amazing Samaritans and encouraging people who are out there to help us, and that is where the focus of my speaking appearances is at, a tragedy turned into pure faith, love and dreams empowerment!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Your adoring fans call you “The Queen of Popera”. What exactly is Popera and why is it so popular?
Romina Arena: Popera is a style of music I created, which very quickly has been embraced by millions of people. Also known through Andrea Bocelli as classical crossover. It is a wonderful romantic combination of pop music and more of a classical sound, not quite opera, but perhaps more of a symphonic luscious sound. The two styles not only create the ultimate mélange of beautiful music, or what I like to call, ‘going back to the basics of what beautiful real music is all about”, but because of its format and influence of pop hooks and sounds as well as more of a crossover feel, it allows people of all ages to fall in love with it!
I had the honor to work as a co-star, or as a songwriter/record producer with some of the greatest Popera tenors in the world, from Bocelli to the late great tenor lead of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, Marcello Giordani, and Alessandro Safina, Mario Frangoulis, The Sicilian Tenors from which I have discovered and producing the new amazing ELIO, and soon, although I cannot reveal his name, I am about to launch as well an incredible music collaboration with a famous male popera crossover tenor who has millions of followers and that recently recorded one of my songs! I cannot reveal his name but I am super excited about the fact that I am specializing myself in writing and producing some of these incredibly talented stars!
I also recently created another similar genre of music, which focuses more on a unique and spectacular combination of cinematic orchestral sounds and pop music, which I have called ‘cinematic pop,” and I have been working on two incredible new records in multiple languages that I am sure are going to make you all dream! Something that has never been done before, so stay tuned!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: As a singer, you sold more than 15 million records. Which album was the most emotionally rewarding?
Romina Arena: I just want to make clear that this is a combination of my international albums in ten different languages that have been released in multiple territories, but also a large number of movie, TV, and videogames soundtracks, including my wonderful Bafta music collaboration and composing for Microsoft’s Xbox VIDEOGAME ‘GOTHAM RACING 2” and the theme song I composed and recorded in several languages, a rock song which I wrote in a few minutes and that ended up being one of my most popular tunes! A very unique fact about this Microsoft soundtrack is that the song is a hard rock opera song, so very much different from anything I have ever been writing or recording!
But the album that, to me, keeps on giving me great pride and success, is my precious music collaboration with the great Maestro, the late Oscar-winning film composer Ennio Morricone!
My mom took me to Rome to meet with a Sicilian friend, also Oscar-winning film director Giuseppe Tornatore, from the wonderful Oscar-winning film CINEMA PARADISO; and it was Giuseppe himself, as I was only 13 years old and begged him to introduce me to the Maestro, that made this encounter possible.
Yes, because even though I was so young and coming from an animated world of music such as Disney, my brain has always been attracted to the great cinema music, and who better than Morricone could truly have an impact on me?
When I met Ennio in his palatial house in Rome, I begged him to let me work with him, but he sent me away, saying I was not ready and that I had to learn not only the true craft of being a songwriter but that my voice had to mature and that I had to achieve more success in order to be taken seriously by him! Although any other girl of my age at that time would have been extremely disappointed, instead I decided to work on my career and no matter how long it would have taken me, I promised myself that one day I would have gotten back to Maestro Morricone and that my dream eventually would have become true, and it did!
It took me twenty years, but I signed a major soundtrack record deal and I convinced my record label and my agent that at that time happened to represent Morricone, to schedule a new meeting at the same house in Rome!
Of course, he did remember me, but he needed to know about me, the successes achieved, and most importantly he wanted to hear my voice and my own songs. When Ennio took me to his own private studio at the house and heard my music and my live singing voice, that is when he said that I had the most dominant female singing voice he had ever heard and wanted to do immediately a project with me! The result of that magnificent saint-like connection gave birth to the greatest music album I personally have ever done, titled MORRICONE UNCOVERED.
The reason I titled it this way, is because Maestro Morricone allowed me to choose his top 15 scores he had worked on, and he allowed me to write original lyrics in several languages to those scores, and turning them into songs! So the music of major movies such as THE UNTOUCHABLES, FOR A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, THE LEGEND OF 1900, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, LOLITA, and many others, for the first time became songs, with an immense success! When Maestro Morricone died, part of me died with him, as I learned everything I know about film music from him; it is a true tragedy as he still represents the greatest film composer of all time and I am so very lucky to have been chosen by him, working on such an amazing award-winning music project.
I also had the amazing honor to have worked with some of the greatest Grammy record producers in the world, including my unforgettable work with another super talent, unfortunately no longer alive, the great Bob Johnston, who has discovered and produced the most amazing artist of American music history and legends such as Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan, and who has produced me as well. Just two of my most heartfelt projects in music.
Thanks to these two incredible music legendary figures, I have become who I am today, as a singer, songwriter, composer for film, and as executive producer. Not too bad for a little girl from Sicily!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Your hit song “FLY ME HOME” will be featured on all United Airlines domestic and international flights beginning on September 1st, 2020. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Romina Arena: This is definitely one of my favorites! I was so lucky once again to begin working with a very successful, top-of-the-charts of Billboard Magazine Jim Wilson. Jim asked me to join him on his new national major PBS TV special and the two of us began to collaborate also in songwriting together. So we brought to life this amazing song, FLY ME HOME. We wanted to dedicate this heartwarming beautiful song to all of those men and women who are serving as military overseas and are longing to go back between the arms where they belong, as they are away from their families. But this song has so many other meanings. It became an instant success and it attracted the attention of many wonderful corporations and advertising agencies; from here, United Airlines immediately approached me to include FLY ME HOME into their inflight campaign! And we are thrilled! The song is contained in my latest Christmas Holiday album A BEAUTIFUL SURPRISE, which you can find on Amazon, Apple Music, and also a special limited edition autographed by me on my website www.rominaarena.com.
Of course, if you fly UNITED you’ll be able to hear my song there!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What inspired your last song “Holding You;” which is also available in Spanish version?
Romina Arena: HOLDING YOU is another very special song to me. I wanted to portray in words and music the greatest feeling of loving somebody without falling in the same old love lyrics. I was very much in love during that time and I wanted to think about that special feeling you have when you are soaring so high for love and it is hard to describe it, so I wrote these lyrics ‘holding you feels like holding heaven in my arms”. Get the message?
And because I love my Hispanic fans I wanted to write the Spanish lyrics of this song, which are both available on Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Apple Music, and all digital music platforms out there! The excitement over this song became even stronger when I HEART RADIO picked it up and promoted the song across the country to hundreds of program directors, making HOLDING YOU a great success in America!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Many singers recorded songs written by you. Who is the singer that excited you the most about singing a song of yours?
Romina Arena: I have to tell you that many stars recorded my music and I’d say that the greatest honor as I mentioned before, was the late great New York Metropolitan Opera House lead tenor Marcello Giordani. However, recently a magical artist with millions of fans has recorded one of my songs, but I am not just yet allowed to talk about it; stay tuned for more!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You recently won the 2020 Variety’s Spotlight award”…
Romina Arena: Yes, that was organized and presented to me in Hollywood by the major organization FILMING ITALY who recognizes major Italian talent in America, sponsored by the prestigious Variety magazine! The same award presented to me was also presented to Oliver Stone, Gina Lollobrigida, the great friend of mine major Italian actress Claudia Gerini, Jeremy Renner, Martin Scorsese, Rosario Dawson, and many others. I was awarded as the best-selling Italian music artist in America and for my contribution to music in cinema! Such an honor!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Which other award that you won was very meaningful for you?
Romina Arena: I have been very blessed to have received some wonderful recognition, but perhaps I would say the GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP AWARD given to me by the New York Times in collaboration with the UN and Prince Albert of Monaco for my charity work and helping to raise funds for Haiti, for Orphans international, thanks to the power of my music and supporting people in need, made me so very happy. When I can give back, that is what makes me more proud of the work I do. If you are fortunate to do the work I do and you are blessed by God, then you must give back, and this award made truly a difference in my life.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You also recorded a soundtrack for Microsoft XBOX. What was it and how was that experience?
Romina Arena: I already have spoken about it, but definitely it was another amazing opportunity to write and compose for videogames. I also have recorded a song titled I WANT LOVE, which became the soundtrack tribute to the famous horror movie SILENT HILL. This song was placed in the videogame version of the movie. I cannot wait to do more videogames music, a very fun experience!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are also an executive producer for Disney-ABC Television, PBS, and the ESPN Network. What programs do you produce? How do you find the time to follow so many projects?
Romina Arena: Well I don’t sleep much, which I am not sure is necessarily a good thing!
I am so proud to be the first Italian/Sicilian female born to be the creator, star, and executive producer of a couple of major national and international DISNEY/ABC TV specials, in this case, some wonderful ice skating concerts, where I also composed and created all the music as well as performing it live! I had the pleasure to have the greatest Olympic ice skating stars in the world, such as the greats Brian Boitano, Michael Weiss, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Nancy Kerrigan, skating to the sound of my music and for my specials to have been watched on a world scale by millions of people. As the woman who has created, starred, composed the music and executive produced the specials with my manager Jay Hall, and be a girl from Sicily and suddenly obtaining such a giant success on American television, it has been one of the highlights of my life and career and many more are coming! Be prepared to be blown away!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You also founded The Romina Arena Company. What is that about?
Romina Arena: The Romina Arena Company is an entertainment creative global company that puts music first, but that at the same time focuses on the development and production of major film, TV specials, series, animation, unscripted series, and also merchandise and licensing. The company follows definitely, although in smaller ways at the moment, the structure of the Walt Disney Company, as I admire greatly the work that Disney has been doing. I am so fortunate to have in my team also a major Walt Disney executive and as now my Chief Creative Strategy Content officer Forrest Fisher, which with my management and Jay Hall, Brad Rubens, Regina Randolph, leads all of our new exciting projects and synergizes with many partners and clients, such as recently United Airlines, Matilde Vicenzi’s cookies, and Blue Microphones to mention a few. Forrest is a guru in technology and entertainment and he is a solid brilliant genius at our company.
We also have now the great filmmaker director and head of physical production at our company Chris Fisher, who was involved with the filming and release of major concerts in movie theatres, such as the Rolling Stones live from Copacabana or the Met in New York and the operas in cinemas! And we have now Eric Carlson, who is leading our art designing and development division with the launch of the new Romina Arena lifestyle brand. He is another brilliant member of our ROMINA ARENA COMPANY! And more to come!
And finally, our focus is to promote all things Italian. Italy is still the place I was born and I see how much people in America and around the world love Italy and we are launching programs, movies, products, and experiences promoting Italian culture, it is a must for us at the company!
Our slogan is ‘Embracing American Culture With An Italian Accent.”™
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What fuels your creative energy?
Romina Arena: My love and faith in God, without a doubt. With all that I have been through in my life, without God’s presence and blessings, I would have been already gone. My energy comes from prayers, meditation, but also from helping others to believe in the power of their dreams. I always tell everyone that when you have the power to help somebody and you don’t do it, you commit a crime! If we have the possibility and ability to bring to life other people’s dreams, it is our duty to give without expecting anything in return. At least, this works for me.
My devotion to our Creator is what keeps me alive and motivated, I owe everything to God.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What projects are you working on at this time?
Romina Arena: Too many to mention, but let’s just say that in the next few months some major announcements will be made, including large musicals books, animation projects, and of course two incredible new records and so much more! I am working with large film studios and some major A-list actors and stars attached to our projects, so we are eager to let you all know as soon as we can release the news!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What would be your dream project, the one that hasn’t yet materialized but that you aspire to achieve?
Romina Arena: I rather not to say yet, because I feel that is very close to become a reality, but I want to keep it in the box for a little longer…
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: If you could meet and talk to a person from any historical period, who would that person be and what would you ask them?
Romina Arena: I’d love to meet Jesus. I find Him such a charismatic spiritual being with such an incredible story and knowledge. I would simply thank Him for the life he has given me not once but twice and ask him on how to be an even more compassionate person, how to love and forgive unconditionally, no matter who hurt you.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Any message for our readers?
Romina Arena: As I always like to end almost all of my interviews, I’d love to invite you all to believe in the endless power of your dreams; don’t be afraid to think and dream big! Dreams have no deadlines, no matter how old you are or where you come from, just love matters.