Jackie Evancho made a lot of people happy Sunday night when she brought the most talked about 11-year-old voice in the nation to the Saroyan Theatre. “We love you, Jackie!” a person in the crowd called out in the midst of a standing ovation. “I love you, too!” the singer replied, and a woman sitting by me offered the contented sigh of someone whose lofty expectations from repeated listenings of Evancho’s CD were satisfied by seeing and hearing her live.
As for me, I was in the minority in the audience, for sure. Yes, I admire Evancho’s talent, and she has a sweet personality on stage. There were times in the program — particularly in her intense rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” and in her trademark “O Mio Babbino Caro” — that I got a glimmer of why there’s been all the hoopla surrounding her rise to fame (first on “America’s Got Talent,” followed by a popular PBS special and the best-selling album “Dream With Me”) — namely that of pure, haunting, almost preternatural vocal presence. But in many of her songs at the Saroyan, I just didn’t connect. Her lower range sounded like a little girl trying to sing older than her years. Some of her higher notes, such as in the song “Nella Fantasia,” were a little less pure and resonant than I would have expected. And while I realize that many in the audience found her demeanor on stage unaffected and entrancing, to me her performance habits — which include breaking character before the ending of a song to smile and wave at the audience — detracted from the experience.
But that’s me. There’s no doubt Evancho has a warmth and sincerity that affects audiences.While there’s a lively ongoing debate in the music world about her career in the music world, she has legions of fans, and a lot of them were there Sunday night at the Saroyan. I’m glad they had such a good time.
Pictured: Jackie Evancho sings with the Fresno Grand Opera orchestra, conducted by Bob Tweten, at the Saroyan Theatre. Photo: Carlos Camarena / The Fresno Bee