On Monday, I went to see Jackie Evancho at the Lincoln Centre. I was feeling entirely cynical and quite nauseas at the prospect.
It began with two overtures performed by a 50-person orchestra, which were unforeseen - due to my complete lack of expectation of the evening - and perfectly lovely. Then Jackie Evancho took to the stage. She was a vision in sparkle. Her outfit consisted of a royal blue a-line dress, white tights and silver shoes: very ‘children’s birthday party meets Wizard of Oz’. It was at wise wardrobe choice I thought; very appropriate. On principle I disliked her, she is creepy.
I am going to write this review with a similar chronology to how I reviewed the performance, as I think the progression is interesting.
During her first song, ‘Lovers’ from ‘House of Flying Daggers’ I wrote: “annoying, prissy, nervous, standing ovation” because she was annoying, prissy, looked nervous and got a standing ovation from many a swooning wannabe grandparent. Her second, from ‘Xerxes’, prompted me to repeat the words “apologetic, nervous”. In retrospect, and without the veil of disdain clouding my view; this was quite sweet. She kept looking up at Constantine Kitsopoulos, the conductor, with a very apprehensive look in her eyes. ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, she sang impeccibly, and by the end I was writing words such as “sweet” and “modest”, and “trained?” It was almost more disturbing to realise that Jackie Evancho seems like a relatively normal child; nervous in front of the 400-strong audience. She was simpery, but that was to be expected. The fifth song, written by a fellow Evancho, confirmed my fear that she was too likeable to put herself up to this hellishly public ordeal; the only explanation was crazed parents. I was mulling over this idea when she did one of those grotesque bits of talking in a song, think more child possessed than ‘The Streets’, which included the word “father” ... and just when I’d decided I liked her. As if I needed to be any more certain of her power-hungry parentage, she sung ‘O mio babbino caro’ as the closer of her first half. Translation: ‘Oh My Beloved Father.’ Oh my beloved God, I think we were witness to more of a cryptic cry for help, than a jovial New York debut. All this time, we had been sitting behind a Peter Griffins look alike, which it struck me could very plausibly be Jackie’s babbino caro.
With the intermission came average costing and tasting champagne, surprisingly little JE-related chat, and an amusing amount of Jackie-a-likes who I can only imagine had been brought to the concert by their parents, to show them an exemplar. It made me curious as to what her contemporaries think of her. How would I have viewed a creepy little child prodigy? Probably very similar to the way I do now; cynically. The only recurring conversation was commenting, through grimacing faces, how weird it will be to grow up as “Jackie Evancho”. We all went back in feeling quite sorry for her.
The orchestra at the beginning of the second half was mildly boring in comparison to orchestra-mit-Jackie. I spent the whole two pieces watching the conductor; the job of which, even after twenty two years of life and exposure to music, seems wholly undignified and quite dispensable. Ignorant as it may be, it always looks as if they are pointing at the part of the orchestra playing rather than pre-conducting anything.
The second of the two was An der schonon blauen Donau, a patronisingly obvious piece of “classical music”: more Disney jewellery box than Carnagie Hall. Kitsopoulos thanked the orchestra, aka “fifty of his best friends”, for playing. This produced varied responses; I scoffed, and my roommate sighed sweetly. He then went on to say “I know we worry about the future of the youth of America,” but when we see Jackie “I’m sure that we worry a lot less.” I thought this was an amusingly ironic and totally fallacious comment, as I can say in all honesty that when I saw Jackie Evancho in concert, it made me sure that the youth of America are totally fucked. Predominantly, Jackie Evancho.
The second half induced a predictable wardrobe change; same shoes and tights, but with a silver dress. Reliably, her first song was beautiful. Her voice is just so awesomely pure. Inevitably it crossed my mind, and the minds of others, I realised, when we left the concert with the same questions: what will happen when her voice breaks or ages? At the moment this spectacular silvery voice issuing from an 11 year-old looks mad, but it also is not the voice of a teenager or an adult.
Jackie would constantly drink from a water bottle between songs and the tiniest bit of me wondered what would happen if she collapsed as if someone had Agatha Christie-style contaminated her bottle. I realised at that moment, that I would venerate her forever if she pretended to keel over.
Her encore and ‘thank-you’s’ were sweet. She was jumping around like an excited and slightly nervous child, trying to say over hoards of standing, screaming old people how much she loved New York.
I was pleasantly surprised by Jackie Evancho, and will make an effort to be far less scathing and judgemental in the future. My opinion was thrown into doubt early on when I saw Robert Redford had cast her in a film, and she proved herself throughout the performance.
I have just read the review in the New York Times about said concert. I love a scathing review as much as the next person, probably more, but going to a Jackie Evancho concert and saying she is a creepy, young, opera-singer is not particularly mind-blowing. Of course she cannot put as much meaning or passion in to the words of the songs; she is claiming to be a soprano, not a magician. Furthermore, one cannot expect an eleven year old to have the emotional maturity of an adult, then get cold feet about the risks of reality television; presumably on the grounds that it is unhealthy for young people to be exposed to such things non-niceties from such a tender age.