Growing up, I used to listen on Saturday nights to the wonderful Midnight Special radio show on the classical music station WFMT in Chicago, which put aside their regular format for three hours of "madness and mayhem," with folk music, comedy, Broadway and other odds and ends. Easily, one of the more odd were old recordings of Florence Foster Jenkins.
To those many (and I'm sure most) who don't know the name Florence Foster Jenkins, she was a wealthy socialite who fancied herself quite the opera singer. Alas, she was anything but an accomplished diva and even bordered on the tone deaf. However, that didn't stop her, and in 1912 beginning at the age of 44 she began performing and gave rare concerts in small, private clubs (dismissing the laughter in the audience as being from "hoodlums" who were "planted by her rivals"), and a prized annual concert in the Grand Ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton, as well as made recordings, which helped build up her notoriety. And then, despite despite the mockery -- or perhaps more accurately, because of it -- but famously eventually rented out Carnegie Hall for a sold-out performance. Not long after, she passed away in 1944 at the age of 76.
And now, there is a movie about the dear lady, starring no less than Meryl Streep. It opens on May 6 in England, though doesn't have a U.S. date yet. Hugh Grant also stars as her much younger common-law husband and impresario manager. And it's directed by Stephen Frears, who has done such films as The Queen, Philomena, Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity. So, the pedigree all around is pretty high.
"People say I can't sing," Florence Foster Jenkins once commented, "but they can't say I didn't sing!"
Here's the trailer --
And here, as proof, so you can know that I'm not lying about any of this or exaggerating how truly awful she was, here is one of those aforementioned recordings -- the real Florence Foster Jenkins performing "Adele's Laughing Song," from Die Fledermaus by Richard Strauss.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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