Before the days of auto tune and viral online hits, Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy American socialite at the turn of the century, dreamed of becoming a famous opera singer. The only problem was she had no sense of rhythm, couldn’t sing on pitch, had no ability to pronounce words and she just couldn’t sing. But that wasn’t going to stop Florence! With sheer determination and confidence in her own ability, FFJ became one of the most infamous opera singers of her time. So infamous, that in 2016 she will be portrayed by two diva’s of the film and opera industry: Meryl Streep and Joyce Didonato! But who the hell is Florence?!
- Narcissa Florence Foster (as a child) was a prodigy pianist. Despite the fact she couldn’t hold a tune, FFJ was well known in her childhood as an incredible pianist. She was so good, that she performed for President Hayes at the White House. With a love for all things music, she asked her father if she could study music abroad. He refused. So, in 1885 at the age of 17, she eloped with Frank Thornton Jenkins.
- Frank Thronton Jenkins forgot to mention one tiny little thing. He had syphilis. Contracting this terrible disease from her husband, Florence and her husband split up. But FFJ kept her married name. Now living on her own, she had to fend for herself. This is where things went pear shape. Working as a piano teacher, FFJ suffered an arm injury and was left with no way to support herself. Until, her father died.
- Money! Money! Money! By leaving his daughter a large amount of money after dying, FFJ’s dad launched her career into opera. She finally had enough to pursue her dreams of becoming a world class opera singer! (Thanks dad…) Later on, her mum would pass away leaving her MORE money to continue her career. (Thanks mum…)
- Hittin’ The Clubs And so, FFJ joined many musical clubs and became a socialite in the music scene. She even created a Club of her own: The Verdi Club. It was in these clubs and at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York that FFJ would perform her recitals. As these recitals were invite only, her nearest and dearest friends were the only people to see (be tortured) by FFJ’s singing.
- People actually listened to her?! Surprisingly enough, FFJ’s singing was so terrible that it proved to be amusing to her audiences. So not only did she have the opportunity to perform what she loved, her audiences were actually having fun at the same time! She just didn’t realise it was at her own expense. FFJ proved to be so popular, that her final recital was at Carnegie Hall, and it sold out.
When listening to her recordings, and hearing stories about her performances, I come to the conclusion that Florence was a ‘viral internet hit’ before the internet even came around. The interesting story of her life, combined with her incredible confidence in her completely useless talent has been begging for a movie for a century! In case you don’t believe just how terrible FFJ really was, we have included ‘before and after’ recordings of famous arias.
ARIA A LA FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
Before: The normal aria sung by a professionally trained opera singer.
After: Aria a la FFJ
Delibes: Bell Song
Before: The incredible Natalie Dessay
After: Florence Foster Jenkins (video including internet cats)
Strauss: Adele’s Laughing Song
Before: Lucia Popp
After: Florence Foster Jenkins
Mozart: Queen of the Night Aria
Before: Diana Damrau
After: Florence Foster Jenkins
Written by Katherine Goyder