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Richland's Evancho appears with opera for first time

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Monday, Oct. 17, 2011

Some performers capture an audience during a concert. Others are loved before they step on stage.

The sold-out house at the Benedum Center, Downtown, for Jackie Evancho's debut with Pittsburgh Opera on Sunday evening didn't want to wait for the chance to show its affection. Even "The Lord's Prayer" was interrupted with applause.

The concert featuring the 11-year-old soprano from Richland began slightly late, perhaps because traffic hadn't entirely cleared from the afternoon Steelers game.

"Only in Pittsburgh, to go from football to the opera," Steelers great Franco Harris said during intermission. He called Evancho wonderful.

"To hear that voice come out of that little girl is fabulous," he said. "And she's from Pittsburgh!"

Evancho was 10 when she was runner-up in the 2010 "America's Got Talent" contest on NBC-TV. This summer, she began touring. Last night, she performed 10 songs or arias, plus an encore, with music director Antony Walker conducting the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra.

The voice experienced live is for real. It is astonishing for someone so young, beyond being beautifully in tune and well supported. Evancho's opening number — "Lovers" from "House of Flying Daggers" — showed that she sings across a wide range and with remarkably mature tone. She has a big, warm sound in her lower register, with a nice modest vibrato, while on top she sings with purity.

The entire concert was amplified, including Pittsburgh Opera's own solo singers, orchestra and chorus. When Evancho sang a haunting high melody, it sounded as if reverberation had been added to her voice, which is common with amplification of singers.

Evancho's sincerity of delivery was affecting in numbers with the simplicity of "To Believe" by her uncle, Matthew Evancho, and the fervor of "The Impossible Dream."

Walker gave Evancho the most devoted support, showing once again he is a master of keeping the orchestra with a singer.

The first portion of each half of the concert was given to popular operatic excerpts. The 43-voice chorus was outstanding in "Va Pensiero" from "Nabucco" and a shortened version of the Triumphal March from "Aida," both by Verdi.

Among performances by the resident artists of the company, tenor Juan Jose de Leon's "O sole mio" nearly stole the show.

Evancho's final number on the program was "All I Ask of You" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." It's the music that only three years ago got her into singing. Her encore was a heavenly account of "Pie Jesu" from Webber's "Requiem."

The first time someone yelled out, "We love you, Jackie!" she said softly, "I love you, too." The second time, she smiled. She seems a darling of a girl, without being too sweet about it.

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