Just what do we hear when we put on a Jackie Evancho recording? “O Mio Babbino Caro” will do for a start. One is startled immediately by the lush sound that Evancho makes, which would never be expected from somebody her age. But then the worries start. Her interpretation seems little more than imitation — almost ventriloquism — with scarcely a trace of originality. She is comfortable only within a small range. The rest of the time, she is reaching hard for high notes or scooping for low ones. Her phrasing is shaky and unsure; her anxiety is palpable; there is nothing “easy” or free-flowing about her performance. All in all, figuratively speaking, one has the sense that she is trying very hard to fill gigantic shoes that may well fit her someday but could easily wreck the way she walks if she persists in wearing them now.
And this is the problem. At the age of 11, Jackie Evancho should be permitted to sing “like a girl”; instead, by her own design or not, she is singing as a mannered and uncomfortable woman. Why not folk songs and smart pop music and maybe some of the simpler Schubert lieder instead of grand opera? Why not let her sing in a chorus, work with adults who will love her, encourage her, nurture her talent and make her into the finest artist she can be?
Indeed, the cult of the prodigy has always struck me as one of the most debased aspects of the music world. If I were king, I think I would put some kind of ultra-restrictive law on the books that would permit the best and the brightest of our children to flower to ripeness, follow their curiosities, study their art, learn about joy and heartbreak and, ultimately, to turn into people before they are trotted out as the latest phenomenon.
Tim Page, "Talented young musicians run the risk of burning out early"
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