The Music Column

Her Master’s Voice

Recent publicity to the effect that not one but even two films about Florence Foster Jenkins are in the pipeline sends us what I think is a very ambiguous alert.  Florence Foster Jenkins is an arresting subject, no question—but it is unlikely that the phenomenon she represents can be done justice in today’s environment—unlikely being my euphemism for nearly impossible.

FFJ, as I will call her, is remembered today, if at all, as one thing and for one thing only.  Though rarely cited, she is almost always pegged as “the worst singer who ever lived.”  Yes, but as soon as we bring up the story, the problems multiply—and that’s before the movies botch everything.  The first, Marguerite (2015), a French-Belgian production, is remotely derived and set in the wrong decade.  The second, Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), may be more focused and set in the correct period, but I think it will find a way to fail, going the way of several disappointing plays on the same subject.

The mishandling has already begun.  We have heard that FFJ is an “opera singer”—and that is a misnomer.  FFJ did butcher certain arias—she sang art songs wearing laughable dresses and hats.  Everything she did had an absurd air.  I once played just a few seconds of FFJ’s notorious recording of the Queen of the...

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