I'm not sure what to make of the latest phenom from the America's Got Talented Idols or whatever it is, but 10-year-old Jackie Evancho of Pittsburgh certainly caught my attention with her curiously mature-sounding account of "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi."
(Not that I watch shows like "America's Got Talent" -- I'm far too elitist for that, as you know, more likely to be found at snotty opera houses munching on Cheetos and guzzling Mountain Dew, as Glenn Beck would have it. I simply couldn't avoid all the references to the amazing Jackie whenever I came across any half-newsy Web page, so I finally clicked on a link to see what the fuss was all about.)
I hear that some folks have been accusing the soprano-in-training of lip-syncing, and I've got to say that was my first impression, too, both from the sound coming out and what seemed like very little movement in her mouth and throat as she sang. But everyone swears this is for real -- I've attached the clip below -- so I'll happily go along and give her snaps. (Besides, didn't we all just read that American girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever? Maybe this is just a powerful affirmation of that.)
I'll give snaps as well to
"The Phantom of the Opera," which, Jackie says, was the inspiration for her to start singing opera (I always thought that show was more likely to drive people away from opera). What I did find curious during the video lead-in to her performance for the judges was the brief snippet of her singing scales -- that was not quite the same sort of focused sound that subsequently emerged from her during the aria (I don't know how old those clips are, though).
Oh well. I don't want to let my cynical gene dominate. If that was, indeed, all Jackie Evancho delivering one of Puccini's best loved tunes (abbreviated, of course, to fit the ADD of today's TV audience), great for her. And great for a TV show to have made room for a little operatic detour from all those dreadful, wailing, crowd-rousing imitators of real pop/rock/soul/etc. singers.
I liked the way Jackie demonstrated that she had learned something about sensitive phrasing, including little touches of rubato, and I liked the way she carefully rolled each 'r' in the Italian text. A bit of wavering on the low notes made her sound like a little girl, after all (the aria was transposed down); the top register was quite pretty, and nicely on pitch. The singer could use some new facial expressions and might want to cut back on the head-shaking and rote gestures.
But this assumes she wants to go the distance and be a fully, classically trained vocal artist someday. Maybe she just wants to have fun and entertain people, maybe even become the American version of Charlotte Church. That's OK, too. (I'm trying to suppress a shudder.) Jackie's got plenty of time to figure things out, if TV fame doesn't rush in with a vengeance. The exploitation possibilities for this kid are frightening.
It's worth remembering that the late Beverly Sills was wowing 'em when she was 10, so this is not a totally unknown kind of talent. It still stands out, though, maybe more so in a world as generally uncouth as ours.