Sadly, Hollywood is promoting the story of a man who lies to his wealthy wife for decades, allowed her to be publicly embarrassed, while also having a long-term affair with another woman– as normal. Somehow we should glorify people who try hard but have no talent. And the people who lie to them and encourage them to continue to keep singing when everyone else listening is forced to lie as well.
Florence Foster Jenkins was a wealthy socialite and patron of the arts who “took hostage” the elite of New York City in the 1930’s and 1940’s who believed she was a talented soprano opera singer, but in fact, could not sing at all.
In 1941, TIME magazine described Jenkins’ recording of Mozart’s The MagicFlute as “wild wallowings in descending trills” and said “her repeated staccato notes” sounded like “a cuckoo in its cups.”
It also wrote: “Critics have long wondered whether Coloratura Jenkins‘ art can be described as singing at all. But she will intrepidly attack any aria, scale its altitudes in great swoops and hoots, assay its descending trills with the vigor of a maudlin cuckoo.”
TIME’s description of what happened during her Carnegie Hall performance is telling:
Mrs. Jenkins appeared in flame-colored velvet, with yellow ringlets piled high on her head. For a starter she picked Brahms’ Die Mainacht, subtitled on her gilt program as “O singer, if thou canst not dream, leave this song unsung.” Mrs. Jenkins could dream if she could not sing. With her hands clasped to her heart she passed on to Vergebliches Standchen, which she had labeled “The Serenade in Vain.”
The audience, as Mrs. Jenkins’ audiences invariably do, behaved very badly. In the back of the hall men and women in full evening dress made no attempt to control their laughter. Dignified gentlemen sat with handkerchiefs stuffed in their mouths and tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks. But Mrs. Jenkins went bravely on. For a Spanish group she wore a mantilla, carried a big feather fan, undertook a few little dancing steps to convey more spirit. While she was getting her breath, the Pascarella chamber group played Dvorak’s Quintet and cameramen photographed the happy laughing faces in the audience.
When Jenkins found out what people really thought about her and came to the realization that she could not sing and that this entire time people had been laughing at her, she had a heart attack. She died one month later at age 76.
The movie is a terrifying display of immorality promoted as moral. But it is cruel to watch and even more cruel to realize that this really happened.
Why did her common law husband lie to her? Because she was wealthy and contributed to the arts and provided him with a life of leisure?
Did he not think she would ever find out that she had been lied to for decades and what kind of affect this would have on her?
Here is Hollywood’s version:
Here is the truth:
It’s nearly impossible to not laugh when you hear her screeching high pitches. But then, it’s not funny at all when you realize that she thought everyone was taking her seriously. And that she literally thought she was a beautiful singer.
If anything, this movie is a reminder that lying doesn’t help anyone. It hurts the person lied to the most. Lying resulted in her death. Yet the movie ends with her smiling as she dies, stating that even though she didn’t have talent at least she tried.
At least she tried?
What other kind of life could she have had if she known the truth from the very beginning?
Sadly, the movie equates lying to love, which could not be further from the truth.