by Thomas E. Davis
I recall the chills I got when I first heard the 11-year-old Michael Jackson sing “I Want You Back.” Here was a performer with all of the soul, talent, and musical feeling of an enormously gifted adult in the body of a child.
I have a similar thrill every time I listen to the angelic Jackie Evancho, a young prodigy with unlimited potential in both classical and popular genres. Regardless of how many times I’ve seen her television debut on “America’s Got Talent” or her performances on YouTube, whether she’s singing “Silent Night” with the Canadian Tenors or “The Star-Spangled Banner” a cappella at a hockey stadium in her hometown of Pittsburgh, I still shake my head in amazement.
Watch the video from the Great Performances special “Dream with Me in Concert.” Premiering this month on PBS, it’s Jackie’s first solo concert, featuring full orchestra and chorus and producer-arranger David Foster at the piano. Try not to be stunned by the perfect poise and preternatural professionalism of this 11-year-old lyric soprano as she covers Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel.” She’s only been singing for three years, yet it’s clear that Jackie not only feels the music coursing through her; she comprehends the technical aspects of its production and understands how to make it seem effortless.
All the songs on “Dream with Me,” Jackie’s first full-length album, have the same power and purity as “Angel.” I take special pleasure in the way she sings opera arias like “Nessun Dorma” (from Puccini’s “Turandot”), “O Mio Babbino Caro” (from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi”), and “Ombra Mai Fu” (from Handel’s “Serse”). She demonstrates flawless diction and phrasing, an astoundingly mature tone, and pitch-perfect vibrato.
Yet Jackie’s pop performances of “When You Wish Upon a Star” (from “Pinocchio”), “All I Ask of You” (from “Phantom of the Opera”), and “Lovers” (from the Chinese film “House of Flying Daggers”) are just as enjoyable. And she co-wrote the album’s beautiful title song! As a bonus, two renowned guests who know something about singing and appreciate talent when they hear it join Jackie in inspiring duets: Barbra Streisand on “Somewhere” and Susan Boyle on “A Mother’s Prayer.”
Jackie is blessed with loving parents and professional advisers who have allowed her to discover her gift and pursue her dreams, yet retain her childish joy and enthusiasm for music. She doesn’t know how to feign happiness or put on the airs of a diva. She is who she is: an international phenomenon in the form of a darling little girl who is having the time of her life and only wants you to enjoy it, too. And millions of people like me can’t help but respond to her radiant smile and perpetually sunny personality by falling in love with her and her miraculous voice.
An exclusive edition of “Dream With Me” with four additional tracks is available at Target stores. The songs are “Someday,” “The Impossible Dream,” “A Time For Us,” and “Mi Mancherai” (the theme from the Italian film “Il Postino”).