April 28, 2013

Children who sing opera: an update on my viral blog rant

A little over 15 months ago I published a post called About those child opera singers: here's the deal. In less than 24 hours it had collected something like 50,000 page-views. Metropolitan Opera basso Samuel Ramey posted it on his Facebook page. It was the subject of a column in Forbes magazine's online edition. The lively website Operagasm.com reprinted it and selected it as one of its "Best of 2012". NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing, selected it as one of the most notable pieces on singing of the year. The post itself collected hundreds of comments. Some agreed with my objections to the phenomenon of child vocalists singing operatic arias (or singing anything on television, for that matter); others lambasted me with sanctimonious lectures, asking how I could stomp on the dreams of beautiful, talented tykes.

And now, going on a year and a half later, the post still draws hundreds of hits each week, chugging along like The Little Post That Could.

Weird, huh?

I felt I had said all I had to say on the subject, but OH NO: today I encountered a little item on the World Wide Web so bizarre, so irrational, that I knew I couldn't let it pass.  I had to bring it to you Dear Readers.

Some of you will be as appalled as me; others will cheer the author of the item and believe I have been proven wrong.

The item in question is found on a website called the-top-tens.com, a compendium of apparently random lists of top-ten this and top-ten that. The list I found is called The top 10 greatest female opera singers. That list includes a reasonable batch of names, somewhat predictable for the most part: Maria Callas, Renee Fleming, Diana Damrau, Monserrat Cabelle, Joan Sutherland and so on.

The fun begins when the (anonymous) author goes on to favor us with a list of additional names; candidates who didn't make the short list of ten, but still deserve mention.

 The blood began pounding in my temples when I came to No. 17:

Jackie Evancho.

NO! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOOO!!! *pant pant pant*

Before I proceed with this latest rant, let me be clear: I have nothing - not a thing in the world - against Miss Evancho. I hold no grudge against her, have nothing critical to say about her personally, and wish her all the best. In fact, I just got home from seeing the new Robert Redford film The Company You Keep, in which she does a great job in her supporting role. As far as I know, it's her acting debut on the big screen and she's excellent.

Below Miss Evancho's name appear three comments evidently left by readers. I quote them in full:
Remove the names and compare the voices. The fact that she is placed on this list below artists unknown outside opera circles is a travesty that time will certainly cure.

Very outstanding little girl with the voice of an angel.

What a voice and a personality as well, all at 11 years old. This wonder of the age is going to make so many Music lovers so happy.

Now the part that really blows my mind: here are some of the singers ranked BELOW Jackie Evancho; singers who, it was felt, didn't quite measure up to her brilliance:
  • No. 19: Elina Garanca, the current Carmen at the Met;
  • No. 20: Jessye Norman, peerless interpreter of Berlioz, Mozart and Wagner;
  • No. 21: Leontyne Price. Wait, what? No, WHAT??
The next four singers, in descending order, are Agnes Baltsa, Sumi Jo, Raina Kabaivanska, and, fading as she enters the homestretch, some nobody named Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

Want to know who finished dead last at No. 32? Kirsten Flagstad.

Yes: Flagstad was ranked almost twice as low in the poll as little Jackie Evancho.

What is wrong with people? Why are some people such idiots? Miss Evancho belongs in this list like a miniature pony belongs in the Kentucky Derby. Just as, regardless of her excellence in the Redford movie, she should not be ranked ahead of Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep on the list of all-time greatest actresses.

No, seriously, what is wrong with people???

Stop the madness!  Read my viral blog! Help stamp out child-singer idolatry!

I'm all for sensible gun control and immigration reform, but first let's get a handle on this crisis: would someone please sponsor a bill to mandate background checks on opera singers? How about one of those signs like at the roller coaster gate: "You must be this tall - and be this old - to sing Musetta's Waltz".

Okay, all done venting now!

My book THE OPERA ZOO: SINGERS, COMPOSERS AND OTHER PRIMATES is available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online or by phone from customer service: 1-800-344-9034, ext. 3020. Also available at www.amazon.com


  1. You are right, she is not an opera singer. She is classical crossover singer although this guy seemed to be impressed after singing a duet with her:

  2. That site looks like one of those voting things that skew toward celebrities either with large fanbases or with fans willing to spam the votes. The only way to get Price above Evancho is to encourage others to vote for Price.

  3. You are SO CORRECT about this. Why is there so much fear in making a person work until they are actually WORTHY of being on such a "list"?

    Actually, it's more symptomatic of our entire current culture. We allow graduation ceremonies for kindergarten for heaven's sake... we are breeding mediocrity at every turn!!!

  4. WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PUKE EVERYWHERE. People today are just far too uneducated. If children were educated more about opera while they were in school, maybe we wouldn't have this problem. Thank goodness for you actually putting what you believe out there. People can agree or disagree... but if they disagree.. they're wrong. SORRY! There is no such thing as an 11 year old opera singer. I'm 22 and I have to be cautious about what I sing so as not to hurt myself.... *sigh*

  5. The results you get by Googleing the worlds youngest opera singer.
    Youngest Opera Singer - Jackie Evancho sets world recordwww.worldrecordacademy.com/youngest/youngest_opera_singer_Jackie_E...
    Aug 13, 2010 – PITTSBURGH, PA -- Jacqueline (Jackie) Evancho, a ten-year old opera singer, won over the judges of "America's Got Talent" and received a ...

  6. Thanks, I didn't realize Jackie was included in this particular top 10 list. She's in so many other top 10 lists. She is of course NOT an opera singer but I voted for her anyway. :)

  7. No, No, No! NOOOOOO! Pant! Pant! Pant!

    Freaking out because an arbitrary Internet posting of the greatest female opera singers contains Jackie Evancho's name.

    Jackie never has sung an opera. However, Jackie sing songs from operas, AND she sings songs from Broadway shows, AND she sings pop songs, AND religious songs, AND Christmas standards, AND movie themes. Point is Jackie is a classical crossover singer, and not an opera singer.

    There are people who object to Jackie singing opera songs, however, she has done more in the past few years to introduce Puccini's music to the masses than most opera stars. I think the opera world should be grateful for the promotion, and not scorn Jackie efforts.

    So drop a Valium and relax OR, better, attend Jackie's live musical performance, or watch her via the numerous YouTube videos. Most people think Jackie sings in a calming voice, you might be helped by it.

  8. I get your drift and I agree, however, I think people are just overwhelmed by Jackies musicality and being so young just kind of endears her to people. I've been around more than a few years now, been a musician for most of my life. I have a pretty discerning ear. She's my absolute favorite singer right now, and to reiterate what some others have said, she DOES introduce people to a musical form they haven't allowed themselves to enjoy until now.
    So, cut some slack when people call her a great opera singer (to them, she IS) and always remember (chuckle).......the web is the web.

  9. An Apology to the Purists

    We apologize for trespassing here,
    in this place of greek gods, great emporers, and mighty warriors.
    It is not our place.

    We have no skills to know and name profound trills, clever transitions and glorious rising scales.
    We are mundane people, clerks, drivers, soldiers, plumbers, and see the world in simpler ways.
    Water flows downhill.

    We will not waste the spaces in your majestic halls.
    Instead, we will gather under the trees with our thoughts of daily toil, our endless mundane struggles,
    our losses and, sometimes, our little wins.

    We will be satisfied to place out ears and hearts in the hands of one too young to stand in your high company,
    and be thankful for the simple things that she helps us to recall, and to see in new, shared ways:

    "the first cry of my first child"
    "the sound of wind through grass, when war took Danny"
    "cousins climbing trees, and laughing til the sun set"
    and other plain things.

    We will leave the important things, the Battles of Titans, to those more worthy.
    We will be content with our Jackie,
    whom we love,
    for being Our voice.