Mismatched by moonlight: Jackie Evancho’s Sony Classical adventure

Mismatched by moonlight: Jackie Evancho’s Sony Classical adventure


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2013

Ave Maria, the new album by Vittorio Grigòlo, is emblazoned with testimonies of authenticity. The Italian tenor, we are told, ‘learned his craft as a chorister in the legendary Sistine Chapel, at the very source of western sacred music.’

‘I want to let people know where I come from,’ declares Vittorio. ‘It’s a tribute to all the people who helped me, to the hours we spent studying and practising in those little rooms inside the chapel.’

All well and good. But at the time Vittorio was learning his craft women’s voices were not permitted in the Sistine Chapel (the ban was eased in 2000). So what is he doing here singing O Holy Night with the American ex-child star, Jackie Evancho? What are her Sistine credentials?

It gets more complicated. Vittorio, you can read in the credits, was recorded in Rome with the Chapel chorus and a production team led by the estimable ex-DG man Chris Alder.

Jackie is recorded in Prague by Nick Patrick and William Hayward. The two tracks are apparently stitched together. The singers may never have met.

Then there are issues of style. Vittorio sounds at home in the Sistine Chapel. Jackie sounds at home in American popular media. They are scarcely on the same planet. The only tangible presence in this performance is that of Sony Classical executives, playing fantasy records.

Judge for yourselves. To my ears, the recording defies belief.

vittorio grigolo


  • I looked up this track on “you tube” – not only can you hear where the edits are, in the bits where they are meant to be singing together there are ensemble problems.

    The video track was unwatchable – a series of Christmas images stiched together.

    I’m certain this was first conceived as the “Cantique de Noel” – it is so much better (and the words less laden with saccharin) when sung in French.

  • Frank Sinatra did the same thing with his Duets albums. Still, in terms of artistic quality, this CD is sure to blow Maria Joao Pires and Antonio Meneses out of the water…

  • richardcarlisle says:

    After all the concern it’s good to see her voice holding up this well.

  • They met on “Dancing with the Stars” a couple of years ago.

  • Brian says:

    Interesting that Mr. McGuiver should bring up the Sinatra albums. Tony Bennett launched into a similar project a few years back. Big difference was that his duets albums were recorded live with both singers–and the back-up orchestra–present. Not wanting to waste his musicians’ time, Bennett expected the first “take” to be perfect. Whether he was able to achieve that, some of the results are truly sublime.

  • BobM says:

    re: “the ban was eased in 2000”

    On April 9 ?


  • HomoSapiensLaptopicus says:

    Mr Lebrecht,

    We discussed this duet almost ad nauseam on a previous thread.


    Why bring it up again? Why now?

  • Alex says:

    What is he doing here singing O Holy Night with the American ex-child star, Jackie Evancho?

    I’ll tell you what he’s doing – trying to increase his sales. Nothing more complicated than that. But I disagree that they’re mismatched. I think this crooning Italianate cheeseball and Miss Evancho are perfectly suited to one another.

  • Roger says:

    Topo Gigio singing opera. I assume the difficulty is to find out who is the child. How low can we go?

  • mbusby says:

    “I like this opera crowd! I feel tough!”

    Jerry Seinfeld

  • Ehkzu says:

    This thread conflates several distinct topics:

    1. zombie duets (non-live ones), regardless of performer

    2. making duets out of solos, regardless of performer

    3. having duets in which one singer is singing operatically and the other is singing in pop style

    4. this particular tenor singing with this particular soprano

    1. zombie duets

    Is this issue conceptual or real? After all, aren’t most recordings of operas processed via extensive human and electronic intervention? The reductio ad absurdum of this argument is that you should eschew all recordings and only experience music live. I’m not sure that’s even ideal. For example, my favorite Carmen is the movie by Franco Rossi featuring contralto Julia Migenes, whose voice wasn’t big enough for the live stage. Yet her Carmen is electric. And how many beloved opera/classical recordings stitch together the best parts of several takes?

    All things being equal, obviously duets should be done with the duetters standing there looking at each other. On the other hand I’d rather listen to a zombie duet by superb singers than a real one by the kind of performers you hear on LaserLight recordings. Live-together duetting, therefore, is preferable but not dispositive.

    I get the impression that with zombie duets, they aren’t just recorded separately and then patched together. One person sings “to” the other person’s performance. So there is blending in at least one direction. Most famous is Natalie Cole’s zombie duet with her dead dad Nat King. I always though this was more valid sentimentally than aesthetically, but it certainly would not have been possible any other way.

    2. making duets out of solos

    “O holy night” wasn’t written as a duet; so singing it as one usually involves two people mostly taking turns and/or singing in unison. This is innately artificial, as opposed to organic duets such as the one from Bach’s Cantata #78 (“Jesu der du meine seele”) or the Flower Duet, to name just two of many examples.

    Consequently this “O holy night” duet lacks, well, duettiness. The real mismatch is between the music and the duet treatment, regardless of the actual singers involved. If a solo piece is rewritten as a duet, and rewritten skilfully, fine. Otherwise I’d prefer to hear solos as solos.

    3. having duets in which one singer is singing operatically and the other is singing in pop style

    That’s usually a mismatch, all right. But which is the mis? And who’s singing pop style? Jackie Evancho isn’t a pop singer. She’s a classical crossover singer, and has only worked in that genre since coming to widespread public notice. Vittorio Grigolo is the one who’s a pop singer–and a classical crossover singer–and an opera singer. He has done albums in all three genres.

    So…which opera is O Holy Night from? None, of course. It’s an amped-up Christmas carol. It’s not a pop song, nor is it an aria. In fact it’s a perfect example of what’s now called Classical Crossover (i.e. light classics along with popular music sung in a classical–though not operatic–style). One would assume, then, that a classical crossover style–like that of Andrea Bocelli, or Josh Groban, or Hayley Westenra, or Jackie Evancho–would be the best match for the innate qualities of the song.

    4. this particular tenor with this particular soprano

    Vittorio Grigolo got his start at about the age Jackie Evancho did, doing classical-but-not-operatic music, again rather like Jackie Evancho. I bet when he looks at her he thinks “She reminds me of me” (apologies to John Wayne’s “True Grit”). And since they met when both were performing on Dancing with the Stars a few years ago, I’d imagine they’ve kept in touch on some level.

    Grigolo performs his part of this duet more operatically than Evancho, which does sound somewhat mismatched to me. But as someone who loves opera, classical music in general, classical crossover, and pop music, I don’t have an axe to grind towards saying one should have been more one way than another. When Evancho performed with Sumi live last year in St. Petersburg it went better, which is an argument for saying that this duet should have been done live/in person if that were possible.

    So I hope that at some point in the future Grigolo and Evancho are able to duet in person. I’d like to see if they can blend better under those circumstances. Their musical interests overlap, since he’s one of those opera singers who also likes to do stuff that’s in Evancho’s ballpark.

    The implicit question is whether Jackie Evancho at age 13 should sing operatic duets with an opera singer. This may be answered in the future–she has expressed an interest in singing the Flower Duet at some point. So I wouldn’t categorically rule this out. But in general, since Evancho has said she is a classical crossover singer and not an opera singer–repeatedly, for years–I’m sure she would not be interested in singing any opera duets that couldn’t be performed in a Classical Crossover style–that is, in a classical but not operatic voice.

    So the only opera singers I’d expect to see her duet with would be those who want to venture into Classical Crossover territory, singing duets that are amenable to such treatment.

    Which probably leaves out anything from, say, Parsifal or La Forza del Destino. On the other hand I could imagine her doing the duet that ends Aida.

  • Everett Cox says:

    “…Jackie is recorded in Prague by Nick Patrick and William Hayward. The two tracks are apparently stitched together. The singers may never have met…” NL

    Yes it happens a lot in all genres of music or didn’t you know that…

  • Alec. says:

    I suppose that being an “Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.” you must have interesting stuff to say otherwise you’d quickly sink without trace. You do seem however, to place over reliance on the old trick of being controversial for the sake of it.

    You may or may not like a particular singer. We all have our favourites of course, but why is it you continually reserve your most negative comments for Jackie Evancho? To begin with you laboured the point about her not being an opera singer. (Thank you but ee are all aware of that fact.) I suspect you recognise there is something very special about Jackie that you can’t bring yourself to acknowledge. You are too far down the road to recant.

    Come on, tell us really what you don’t like about the girl. Is it jealousy that she has talent in abundance? That she has achieved far more in life already than ordinary folks like you and me could ever dream of? What is it Mr Lebrecht?

    Alec Ludlow.

    • Johnathan Comer says:

      Totally in agreement with you Alec. It’s as if they are frightened of this young ladie’s success. 13 yrs of age and already far far more successful than anyone commenting on this board will ever hope to be. Envy is a deadly sin. Opera snobs have been attacking her since she debuted on AGT. 16 time Grammy winner David Foster discovered Jackie before that. Every time an opera snob has anything to say I feel this pressing need to express disdain for any and everything they have to say. Their OPINION is as invalid as anything I can think of. The best part is their OPINION will in no way ever have any impact on Jackie in any way what-so-ever. After one listen’s to Jackie perform it is already too late for the opera snobs to try to convince them that she is no good.Their constant whining would be amusing if it weren’t so pathetic.

      • Janey says:

        @Johnathan Comer – I feel you may be a tad bitter.

        This canard about “opera snobs” is quite tedious, I do admit. As are the personal attacks in response to others’ comments about professional work product. Shame. Ms. Evancho deserves far better than the vitriol you produced above.

        • Johnathan Comer says:

          Truth hurts I suppose. Everything I said is well documented. All it requires is a little search. I suppose the best thing is to remain quiet while the snobs spill their vitriol on forums,websites and the like. I mean if that’s what they feel they need to do then who am I to refute their quackery. Meanwhile I will sit back and enjoy Jackie’s stardom rise to greater and greater heights while those that resent her remain in relative obscurity..

  • I can’t speak for Norman, but wearing my “Singer” hat , the exposure this young lady gets, the hype, let alone any potential damage done to her due to singing with poor support, I think I know where he might be.

    I’ve commented about her quite a bit, and say anything negative and her “adoring fans” respond with a level of invective that makes one think one is party to some Faustian Pact.

    I’ve got nothing against young performers, or young singers who sound like young singers, but much as this young lady has a pretty voice, so have many.

    She does not deserve the hyperbole afforded to her by a certain strata of society, and the amount of exposure she is getting is not the greatest idea for a singer in vocal transition however talented.

    • Johnathan Comer says:

      Well name a few of those many? Not only does this young lady have an amazingly beautiful voice,she connects with her audience the way very few ever have and you make it sound as if she is common I can why see her “adoring fans” respond to you in that manner. if you continuously type vacuous statements like that one above.Hyperbole??? People have heard her sing,people have attended her concerts,There are no massive promotions involved at any of them,no airplay on the radio, Most of Jackie’s fandom comes from fans introducing others to her music and once they hear her sing then they in turn become fans. Maybe they hear her on a talk show or special event. Either way there is no hyperbole. It’s people’s choice to like what they like and to hell with those that don’t like it.

      • cabbagejuice says:

        @Johnathan This is untrue, not only radio but TV plugs and spots: “There are no massive promotions involved at any of them, no airplay on the radio.”

        It’s wonderful that you and those like you found something to enjoy in music. Can you accept that some people disagree? I am really interested in knowing where all the anger comes from. You wrote: “Every time an opera snob has anything to say I feel this pressing need to express disdain for any and everything they have to say…snobs spill their vitriol on forums,websites and the like. I mean if that’s what they feel they need to do then who am I to refute their quackery…hell with those that don’t like it.Then he should just shut the hell up.”

        I just might agree with you here, “Envy is a deadly sin”, considering the persistent anti-intellectualism that is constantly being stirred up.

        Somehow I don’t think that cocking a snook at classical singing is what the girl or her family are on about or trying to do. I think that people like you are hijacking a sincere attempt to define the style as classical crossover without any intention of tearing anyone else down. After all, if and when Jackie decides to study classical singing or opera she would not like to be painted with the same tar brush you and her befuddled fans are doing now.

        • Johnathan Comer says:

          Befuddled fans? LOLOLOLOLOLOL Yep. That is all we need to hear from your type to understand your mind set. TY for the confirmation.

          • Yes Addison says:

            I won’t call you befuddled, Johnathan, but your posts suggest to me that you do not have a lot of experience with or knowledge of many singers and styles, and your tone is needlessly unpleasant. Pretty voices and performers who “connect” are not and never have been in short supply; you’re in the wrong place to convince anyone otherwise. All of that is subjective anyway. I have listened to Jackie Evancho without dissolving into tears, thinking she is an angel, thinking she is the most remarkable singer to have appeared in the last hundred years, thinking the voice is in a class by itself, etc. (all statements I have seen more than once from a particular kind of fan of hers).

          • Johnathan Comer says:

            Oh I listen to many styles of music(exceptions are rap and techno and the like) but I also realize that opera is NOT the end all be all. God forbid Jackie ever pursue that type of music. I want her to be successful and her voice to fill the world. Her style is perfect for her and her “type” of fans happen to be the best of fans. Their remarks just happen to be how they feel about her music and I am 100% in agreement with them. To see her live performance is an experience never to be forgotten.There have been many singers I have listened to in my lifetime but only one has caused me to moisten my cheeks.Now your “type” can warble amongst eah ohter and profess this or that but in the end it really will never ever make a difference to Jackie’s career or her fans.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    Here we go again. More Latin-lover designer tenors. They all look alike, sound alike and record pretty much the same repertoire. BORING.

  • Roger says:

    Grigolo is a miniscule, throaty tenorino with the voice of a child trying to imitate great singing, just like this poor, exploited child Evancho.

  • Janey says:

    Norman, What is the orchestra she recorded with in Prague?

  • ron van wegen says:

    LOL! Ever since I heard Jackie’s voice I’ve considered it to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I’m one of the great unwashed. I haven’t got a clue about “art”. Yet, here I stand. I can do no other. The rest of you can get stuffed.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Though I am not in agreement with the result (an understatement), recording separately and patching the takes together would be the only way to do such a duet, that is, with a developed operatic voice and a young light one that relies almost always on amplification. Having the two sing together live would be as bad a mismatch as in the St. Petersburg event or the other ridiculous one in Taiwan. One cannot expect a full blooded Italian tenor to dampen his rich overtones to match those of an adolescent voice. C’mon!

  • Jeff Rogers says:

    I find it interesting that the same foes always end up on any thread involving JE. The Jackie detractors vs the Jackie junkies of whom I count myself. Only this time there is a new slant which seems to center around the reason for the Italian gentleman’s decision to add a duet with Jackie including adding her name to the CD. Some think that increasing CD sales to make more profit by hastily adding the duet in question is mere exploitation. That may be true, but if you are going to do it you better pick someone who has the name recognition required to increase sales. No matter how you slice it you have to be able to make a living at what you choose to do in life unless you’re pursuing a hobby. No opera buff would claim that Bocelli is an opera singer but in spite of his shortcomings he is a multimillionaire. Pavarotti, on the other hand, who was unarguably the greatest operatic tenor of the last half of the 20th century, died broke. Do you really think that he made all of those Three Tenor concerts with a singer that was a lifelong rival if he didn’t need the money?

    I don’t understand why the acquisition of “filthy lucre” while pursuing an artistic career taints that career. In spite of others opinions, JE just keeps getting stronger and better to my “untrained ear” which is going to result in her making more and more money in the future just like Brightman and Dion (who she already surpasses in talent) who are both multimillionaires.

  • Jeff Rogers says:

    Mr. Lebrecht,

    My statements about Pavarotti’s financial status was obviously wrong!