June 10th 2022, and a chance for a rare trip to London and a scoring session at the renowned Angel studios in Islington, which are now part of the Abbey Road family. The film being scored was The Island of Forgiveness directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ridah Behi which stars Claudia Cardinale, as Agostina, Katia Greco as Rosa and Paola Lavini as Elena. The movie is produced by Ziad Hamzeh, Nicole Kamato, and Ridha Bedhi.
From what I could make out from the scenes I was seeing when the scoring was taking place it is a commanding drama that contains scenes that are powerful, romantic, and emotive. The score is the work of the Spanish born award winning Maestro Marco Werba who lives and works in Italy and has been doing so for many years now. Many collectors will already be familiar with the Maestro’s film scores and his wonderful gift of melody within them. He at times took to the podium during the sessions and conducted a sixteen-piece orchestra made up of strings from the English Session Orchestra (https://www.instagram.com/englishsessionorchestra/) with cello playing an important and affecting role within the score at key points, its somber but captivating sound adding an alluring atmosphere that is filled with passion, romance, and poignancy.
Other sections of the score were directed by composer Michele Catania who orchestrated some of the music and was on this occasion assistant to Marco Werba, he was assisted by Nicolo Braghiroli with the preparation of the scores and the parts for the musicians. . As soon as I heard the first cue, I knew that this was going to be a special day and one that would be filled with emotive and beautiful music.
Watching the scenes being scored was a thrilling and enriching experience, because seeing the film scored like this also allows one to see and hear just how important music is in movies, there is no dialogue or F/X just the images and the music being performed live to picture. In many ways watching the images with just the music is probably more emotive and affecting because there are none of the normal distractions such as dialogue or even the sounds in the theatre when you are watching the movie. The music is the prominent factor that is embellishing and underlining the emotions and actions that are being played out, rather than being a background to these scenes. The music that Marco Werba has composed for The Island of Forgiveness is eloquent, sophisticated, and deeply moving and from my point of hearing contained hints of the sound we associate with composer Ennio Morricone in movies such as Cinema Paradiso and had the same emotional impact of the work of another Italian Maestro Nicola Piovani in movies such as Life is Beautiful.
There is an aura and a sound present within Marco’s music that is totally consuming and wonderfully beguiling, at times it conveys a strong spiritual persona, that is inspiring and truly hypnotic and recalls the style of French composer Georges Delerue for the films of esteemed filmmaker Francois Truffaut such as The Woman Next Door. Despite these references, Marco Werba has his own style his own individuality and his own unique musical fingerprint that can be recognized through the various works he has written.
The music for The Island of Forgiveness has to it a freshness, but also possess familiarity purveying warmth and richness, which in turn creates highly emotional, intimate, and beguiling moments.
The Maestro slowly and precisely adding various levels of emotion, placing fragile and delicate melodies beneath sequences, adding colour and texture to these, his music never overpowering the storyline but instead empowering and ingratiating it and the images upon the screen. The composer’s music however is never merely a background to events but becomes an important and integral component of the overall cinematic experience, his compositions create an abundance of emotions and express numerous senses whether these be dramatic, or filled with melancholy and romanticism, but every time become affecting as well as effective. I spoke to the composer about the movie and the music.
JM.How did you become involved on the movie
M.W. One year ago I was in touch with producer Ziad Hamzeh for a film by a woman director, but the collaboration with that director didn’t move forward. Two months ago Ziad called me to propose to me the feature drama “The Island of Forgiveness” by tunisian director Ridha Behi, who has worked in the past with Nicola Piovani and Jean Claude Petit, and I immediately accepted.
He told me that they had financial problems and that I would need to find a music publisher who would be able to finance the film score. My previous score (“La Grande Guerra Del Salento”) had been financed by Kevin Ferri (Crisler Music/Soul Trade Music Publishing Group) and I proposed him to become the music publisher of this movie. He accepted. I told him that this movie would deserve to have a high-quality orchestra and that it would be wonderful to record in London with the “English Session Orchestra”. He accepted.
A few years ago I had been a guest of Dom Domalos Kelly, manager of the orchestra, during the recording session with Christian Henson for the British sci-fi movie “Robot Overlord”, at the “Air studio”, and I was really impressed by the quality of the performance. Now I finally had the chance to work with them.
J.M. Did the director have any specific requests regarding the style or sound for the movie
Good question. Director Ridha Behi is very intelligent and has good taste. It’s not easy to work with him because he is a perfectionist (like me) and loves to experiment various solutions before choosing the definitive ones. He then asked for various options and various changes. He is one of that rare category of directors who don’t want to have too much music in his movies. This is a choice that I respect because most of the directors I have worked with (except Cristina Comencini and Aurelio Grimaldi) have always asked me for a lot of music.
Music is important but you need to know how to dose it well. I always give this example to the composition students I had in some masterclasses: Caviar is precious, but if you give it in large quantities it loses its preciousness. For this film the only request from the director was to not write a Tunisian style music with Arabic instruments. I therefore wrote a dramatic music theme in various versions, two more themes and two waltzes (one was used in the film, the other will be included in the CD). There is only one composition (The Burial – L’enterrement), in which there’s a Middle Eastern flavor. Bruno Di Stefano then wrote a few short additional compositions for the movie.
J.M. At the sessions there were the string section which I heard, were there any other instruments utilised on the score?
Yes, a Classical guitar performed by my trusted collaborator Riccardo Rocchi, a mandolin performed by my assistant Michele Catania,who also orchestrated and conducted some of the music, a piano that I performed and a few sampled instruments, Timpani, snare drums, recorder etc.
JM. How did you enlist the performance of Ellen Williams.
Ellen Williams is an excellent singer. I heard her cover versions of “No time to die” and “Gladiator” and fell in love with her voice. Her performance of the title song “Rosa’s Song” for “The Island of Forgiveness” has been truly amazing. Probably the best performance I have ever had of a song. Ellen wrote the lyrics and she is therefore co-writer of the song.
J.M. How much music did you compose for the score.
Not so much, because as I said director Ridha Behi didn’t want to have too much music in the film. I think we have more or less 30 minutes of music, but it is inserted in the most important scenes and well balanced. I would like to thank the “English Session Orchestra” for the beautiful performance, Ellen Williams for her amazing performance, Sound engineer Marco Streccioni and his assistant Gabriele Conti per the great job they did, Michele Catania for all the work he has done, music publisher Kevin Ferri for the financing of the recording and Lanfranco Carnacina for his beautiful performance of the song “I Feel the Danger” that will not be used in this film.
The afternoon session began at around 14-10, and this was for vocal recordings, having already recorded the music the orchestra members were not present for this part of the sessions. The song that accompanies the movies end credits roll, was to be recorded the vocalist being Welsh Soprano Miss Ellen Williams, who has an amazing vocal range and such a pure and distinguished sound. I spoke to Ellen briefly before Marco returned to the sessions, and she told me she had also written the lyrics to the song and had even made a last-minute alteration to these on her way to the studio. Apparently, Marco had found her on You Tube and was impressed by her talents and wanted her to be involved on the project.
And speaking of this I suggest you check out her album on digital platforms entitled Cinema on which she performs vocal versions of movie themes and to look at her website click here Ellen Williams | Welsh Classical Artist
I asked Ellen a few questions.
J.M. Are you a fan of film music, if so, have you any favourite themes or composers apart from Marco Werba of course?
E.W. Absolutely, I grew up listening to Classic FM on the radio and the array of soundtracks they often play. I’ve always been captured by how the music fills a suspenseful pause in films and really brings all the emotion and drama of the storyline to life. I love the music of Hans Zimmer and John Williams. I think one of my favourite themes of all time would probably be the theme form Schindler’s List.
J.M. You wrote the lyrics for the song that you performed, is writing lyrics something you have done before?
E.W. I love to write in not only English and Welsh, but also Italian, French and Spanish, and so when Marco asked me to write the lyrics for the song I got straight into meeting with producer Ziad Hamzeh to really understand the sentiment of the film and compose something meaningful. In December 2020 I recorded a new lyric to traditional Welsh folk song Suo Gân, which Spielberg featured in the film Empire of The Sun. The track was a reflection of all that was happening in the world at the time with the Covid19 pandemic at a peak, and I was delighted to see people connect with the song, which went to number 1 in the UK Classical Charts.
J.M. The score will be released on CD and would think on digital platforms eventually, will there be a single release of the song?
E.W. We are currently in the process of discussing releasing Rosa’s Song as a single.
J.M. What is next for you another film soundtrack?
E.W. The biggest project I’m currently working on is a new album, a collection of hymns and songs to inspire hope and faith which will include rousing renditions of Abide with Me, Amazing Grace, beautiful Welsh hymn Calon Lân, and World in Union.
Her performance was truly breathtaking, as she performed, we sat in total silence not moving, transfixed by her beautiful voice. The song is a vocal version of Rosa’s Theme, which is the thematic foundation of the work. it is a haunting piece which is heard in various forms throughout the movie. The song had to it a Gaelic sound or Irish lilt which was effective adding an ethereal ambience to it. As well as the end title credits song, Ellen performed a wordless vocal for a section of the score, this was for a dramatic and impacting scene in the movie, her part was brief but its quality outstanding. The power of Miss Williams soaring vocal combined with the richness and drama of the orchestral performance act as support and punctuation for the sequence, but also elevate and add greater depth lending a wonderful atmospheric to the scene, heightening the sense of drama and tragedy adding an operatic aura to the scene.
After Miss Williams had concluded her performance, they recorded another song, “I Feel the Danger” but this was for a movie that will not be released until 2023, the music and lyrics are penned by Marco Werba the vocalist being the famous Italian singer Lanfranco Carnacina, the story of this and the score for the movie I hope to tell you soon after the recordings in Rome. I will say that it was a polished and fixating performance, and Lanfranco was as we say in England the life and soul of the party. I want to add that I have been to a few recording sessions, and this I think was the most relaxed and friendliest and will also be the most memorable for me. My thanks to Maestro Marco Werba, and his wonderful group of friends and associates that were present making this one of the most enjoyable days ever. Also, many thanks to the staff and management at the Angel studios, who made everyone welcome and were always on hand to advise and assist.
Also present were Massimo Privitera of Soundtrack City and http://www.colonnesonore.net who’s energy and enthusiasm is infectious, Lionel Woodman of Hillside CD production, Jaques Dejean of Plaza Mayor Music Publishing, and at the mixing desk the Maestro of sound Marco Streccioni who has recorded and mixed nearly five hundred scores for film and television, working with many famous Maestro’s including Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov. He was assisted at Angel studios on this day by Gabriele Conti.
Thanks also to the brilliant members of the English Session Orchestra. w: www.englishsessionorchestra.com fb: /EnglishSessionOrchestra ig: englishsessionorchestra tw: @LondonOrchestra , https://www.instagram.com/englishsessionorchestra/
© MMI/John Mansell. 2022.