quinta-feira, 6 de março de 2008

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Jenkins é um caso extremo de "ignorance is bliss". Desprovida de qualquer amostra de talento ou técnica — algo de que, segundo consta, não se dava conta —, persistiu na sua carreira como "soprano", culminando num memorável concerto no Carnegie Hall. Ela morreria apenas um mês depois.

A sua inesquecível interpretação da famosa ária da Flauta Mágica, Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen:

"Florence Foster Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania in 1868 and left home because her father refused to allow her to fulfil her ambition to sing in public. Now, many might say that Pop Jenkins had it completely right and the daughter had it wrong, but those who we think are losers are often winners and vice-versa. Sixty years after her death and after her last performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, she has a show opening about her on Broadway on Monday and a show opening about her in London this week. The Broadway one is a revue with two people, and the one here is a play based on her colourful life, with six very eccentric people in it. Karma works in a strange way and in this case it worked in her favour.

Florence built up a coterie of admirers based on the recitals she gave to raise money for charity. She was the president of about 12 women's clubs, and funded and founded the Verdi club for ladies who raised money for artists and musicians. When she finally inherited some money from her father, after a difficult few years teaching music (try and work that one through), she gave it all away. She would hold a huge ball for 800 people every year at the Ritz Carlton, paid for entirely by herself, and gave all the proceeds to charity. Every ball and recital was themed: she would change her clothes between each number, so if it was a Spanish song, she would make her apologies, bustle off stage and come back in the full mantilla and skirt and castanets (and she was a portly lady - I wear padding and I still don't get up to her volume). But in this way, the audience's expectations were built up to such a pitch of excitement that even a stage hand moving a chair would get a fantastic round of applause. And I said it wasn't camp!

Word got out, and soon people were battering the doors down to get in. Some people did laugh at her, and she was aware of this, but she had a wonderful blinkered outlook on life, she was so ingenuous, it seems, that she just blocked out the sound of laughter. And the real aficionados would applaud loudly to try to mask it. Any notices she did get would say things like: «You will never again hear a voice like this at Carnegie Hall!» Everyone was in on the joke. But was Florence in on it too? Was her lover/manager the English actor Sinclair Byfield? Was her accompanist, the deliciously named Cosme McMoon? A tape recording exists of him saying: «No one can do what Florence Foster Jenkins did because they all try to send her up. She was totally sincere.»


Not much more is known about Florence really, except that she died a month after the Carnegie Hall debut, which she hocked all her furniture to finance. She would have been totally bankrupt had not 5,000 people turned up for 3,000 tickets. But it seems to me, and to Peter Quilter, that she died in 1944 quite contented, because in many ways she'd peaked.

Her story is one of triumph over embarrassment. On all these Pop Idol-style programmes, the «experts» on the panel are always saying things like: «Follow your dream,» and you reach for the sick bag. But somewhere in a little corner of your head, you hear the same tiny voice you hear when you are singing in the bath. The one that says: «Actually, you know, if I was properly trained and produced - I could be a pop star!» If you have the will and the stamina and the self-belief, you will triumph, even if, like Florence, you've been dead for 60 years when you finally get your true recognition."

Playing the diva of din, Maureen Lipman (The Guardian, 03.11.2005)

Florence Jenkins: The Muse Surmounted