Thursday, July 20, 2006

Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) The glory of the human voice?????

She was another larger than life person who was famous for being quite bizarre.

She fancied herself a singer, not just a singer ....An operatic soprano. She was referred to as a "cluckeratura", "the dire diva of din", "the caterwauling countess of cacophony", and a "hogcalleratura"

She was well versed in the history, art, language,interp, and style of music....the only problem was she had no talent.

When she sang it sounded like the gates of Hell had been opened, and the poor souls within were howling with anguish.

She was the wife of a Pittsburgh Doctor who would not let her seems her parents would not either. She finally divorced him and came to New York City and took this chance of fate to follow her dream...... In 1909 her father died leaving her a tremendous fortune. So money would never be a problem for her. She lived always in luxury.......

In 1912 she launched into her first concert....It was for society club women..Jenkins paid all the expenses, and hired a pianist and the sale of tickets help the ladies in their functions. She was adored by none other than Enrico Caruso, He listened to her sing ONCE...and loved her from afar after. Many liked her most amazing singing...

She was very popular in the society gatherings in New York...Finally she met the man who would work with her for many years Cosme' McMoon. This tortured individual would be her accompanist for the next 20 years...It is interesting when you hear recordings of Jenkins can hear McMoon trying to follow...and not really knowing where to go as she would sing a song in ways it had never been sung before (and never will again)
But who was he really?? McMoon's real name was Edwin McArthur...He was a major musical figure. He was a Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera House. In fact he was Kirsten Flagstad's favorite conductor. This was a lark for him once a year...

There was a Broadway play called souvenir which was lovely but very fictional. McMoon was the narrator as a older hack drinking much and playing at a piano bar...Well he really didn't exist. She is portrayed as a some what motherly matron..... That is not really true as we know McMoon was not real...She was known to be nasty, cheap, a snob, and many other unflattering qualities. She did not like to rehearse...She would appear once a year at her desired performance place. Then she would contact Mr. McArthur to come over and play Cosme' McMoon.

One wonders how much she knew and did not know....At the age of 76 she had no voice, few do at that age...She did not have a vibrato, she sounded like wailing cat....I think it was a great spoof to make money

I would like to list a few reviews of her singing.

"First Lady of the sliding scale"

"She clucked and squawked, trumpeted and quavered"

"Her singing was hopelessly lacking in semblance of pitch"

"She was undaunted by the composers intent"

"She was exceedingly happy in her work. It is a pity so few artists are. And her happiness was communicated as if by magic to her listeners who were stimulated to the point of audible cheering, even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing"

"Of her singing, she sounds as if she was afflicted by a low, nagging backache."

Let the critics say what they wished she was happy as a pig in mud as she sliced her way with McMoon musically.
She received cheers from many who learned how to deal with her absolutely dreadful singing..It was an event to see her. She became very famous for being dreadful....All the time she was content with the thought that the laughter she heard now and then from the audience was jealous rivals trying to overstage her. At least that is what she said.

Different audiences reacted differently to her...Some roared with laughter till tears came...Some sat in shocked silence....some took their ties, hankies, or whatever was avalable and stuffed them in their mouths to control their yelps of laughter...There was an art to that.
I interviewed a fellow who went to one of her concerts once, and he told me he had to stuff a napkin in his mouth to cut down on his laughter. People would often be over come with laughter ...some had to leave the hall to get their breath...Some of the old timers helped the young new audience members on proper mouth filling devices to control their yelps of laughter....It was a cult of cults...Was she real...I think she may have been, but I do believe she was more aware of things than she let on....She knew she was a hit and she played it too the max!

She made recordings..
They are nothing short of ...........I am not sure if there is a word in the English tongue to describe the records....they are a mix of fun, horror, amazement, shock and awe, awful noise, and bewilderment.......They are dreadful...but interesting......They were popular in their day...they were played at parties.....

Her performances were always sold out...They had to bring in the police in the calm the riot that would take place around her concert as there were always not enough seats for all who wanted to go...Her concert tickets were often sold outside for $20.00!! A lot of money in those days.

Her crowning achievement was her concert at Carnegie Hall....The concert sold out in a matter of days as soon as it was announced...2000 people were turned away on the day of the concert. Everyone there was trained on how to stuff your mouth with a hanky........

Her concert was a great success...She was dreadful and the audience loved her.... One month after that concert she died......She did it...She beat the odds and became a star.....What is more amazing She became a famous concert not being able to sing.
She died in a music store...I guess that makes sense...The music finally got even.

She wrote her own epitaph...."Some may say I couldn't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing" AND SING SHE DID!!!!!! She knew what she was doing and the joke was on all of us!

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