Sunday, May 10, 2020

Florence Foster Jenkins sings "The Queen of the Night" by Mozart

Her performance was never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience; it was chiefly immolatory, and Madame Jenkins was always eaten, in the end.
- William Meredith
The not-divine Mrs. Jenkins
The Queen Of The World is delightful in every way imaginable, but one of the things I most enjoy about her is how she sings only when she thinks that nobody's listening.  I can't figure out why, because she has quite a nice singing voice, but I only hear it when she's off in some corner of Castle Borepatch and thinks that nobody's around.  I love to listen to her, and sometimes sneak a little closer to hear better.  Like I said, she's quite good (if shy).

But what about someone who wasn't good, and wasn't shy?  That would be Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy socialite who had enough money to produce her own recitals - staring herself, of course - but who didn't have enough self-awareness to realize just how stunningly bad she was.

This piece by Mozart is famously difficult.  Here's the divine Maria Callas doing it properly so you know what it should sound like:

The vocal fireworks start about 40 seconds in.  You'll notice that this piece was not for the faint of heart.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), Mrs. Jenkins was not faint of heart.  But fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.  Warning: this is without doubt the worst performance of this ever recorded:

She was called the "Anti-Callas" for good reason.  What's funny is that Jenkins became quite popular, and regular attendees at her performances included Enrico Caruso and Cole Porter.  She attracted the loyalty of quite an impressive audience because she was completely fearless.  A few years back they made a film about her:

This Mother's Day I hope that all the Moms sing as fearlessly as Mrs. Jenkins, for the joy of it - even if they don't have the voice of a Maria Callas or The Queen Of The World.


libertyman said...

That movie should be fun. And good for her that she could do what she did. It looks like Meryl Streep was the perfect choice for her portrayal.

And yes, Maria Callas was quite the singer!

This is one on line course I always look forward to, thanks for the education!

Sherm said...

My dad bought us her album when we were teenagers. We had a lot of fun playing it for our friends.

Ken said...

The movie was entertaining, and a bit sad. Good performances by the leads: Streep, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg.

Rick T said...

I recommend Diana Damrau's performance as a contrast to Maria's, especially if you watch the video versions. Great tone and range and Diana actually looks and sounds angry.