Four years ago, a 16-year-old with the voice of a Pavarotti wowed the nation.
And last week at the Royal Hippodrome, he won an audience’s hearts.
Say what you will about the TV talent shows, but without the platform of Britain’s Got Talent we actually might never have heard of Jonathan Antoine: no conventional route and, at that stage, no professional training, but a natural and unique talent.
Once heard and seen, never forgotten: with his huge wavy hair and his large, slightly shambling frame, Jonathan is anything but a slick, cloned entertainer off the production line.
Self-effacing and still slightly shy after a whirlwind of an early career, he is an engaging stage presence, and the Hippodrome audience quickly embraced him.
That Pavarotti comparison is by no means misplaced. Jonathan’s voice has power and richness in plenty, and his powerful, sustained phrasing fills a theatre. A sound system rather full of reverb gave a slightly artificial impression and it would be good to hear Jonathan in more unenhanced form, but his voice is clearly a magnificent instrument.
The choice of repertoire is suited and wisely chosen, if a little bit on the safe side: lots of big Italian arias, recognised and well received, some popular numbers such as Hushabye Mountain and one or two show songs.
It is the perfect “crossover” mix, and never too high-brow for his target audience.
Several numbers were accompanied by the admirable Seaford College Choir, who also had their own spot including an adventurous arrangement of Dvorak’s New World theme, with perfect intonation and lovely dynamics.
The choir’s director, Sara Reynolds, has actually been a key figure in Jonathan Antoine’s youth: she was his singing teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, nurturing a 14-year-old, with precocious ability, and developing his newly broken voice into a startling mature tenor.
Sara, indeed, has been one link in a chain of successful supporters for Jonathan.
Accompanist, musical director and evident mentor Robert Emery eased things along nicely with relaxed good humour.
Soprano Aliki, called in at short notice as the supporting act, sounded stunning, and her “Think of Me” was truthfully the highlight of the night: if this lady hasn’t yet played Christine in Phantom, she should keep nagging her agent...
Jonathan’s final choices of the evening were ironically not his finest. A guitar riff in the middle of Parla Piu Piano (Speak Softly Love) felt incongruous, and Summertime, from Porgy and Bess, is too great a song to be tampered with.
But these are quibbles. This young man – still only 20 – is a unique performer with wonderful talent, and he sent a rapturous audience home from the Royal Hippodrome richly satisfied.
His success is all the more admirable for the route he has taken: not a hothouse artistic education but an ordinary youngster with an extraordinary talent.
If you seek the proof that Jonathan is a star without a star complex, it’s there in the theatre foyer, where you are actually greeted with a quite modest merchandising table – manned by Jonathan’s very proud Dad. Review by Kevin Anderson