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Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Grant’

Black Pearls Before Swine

September 22, 2016 | by

Florence Foster Jenkins is remembered as a failed opera singer. What can we learn by listening to her today?

Florence Foster Jenkins.

When Florence Foster Jenkins made her self-financed public debut as a singer—in October 1944, when she was seventy-six—she sang “Clavelitos,” crying “Olé!” and flinging carnations at the audience in Carnegie Hall. For her encore, she had the carnations collected—and then pelted the crowd again. “Olé!” they roared back. Her friends cheered, hoping to drown out the screams of hilarity and derision.

Born in 1868 to a wealthy family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Jenkins had been a talented child pianist. She eloped with, then separated from, a man from whom she contracted syphilis, transforming herself into a working woman who supported herself with piano lessons; an heiress; and a socialite, arts patron, and founder of the musical Verdi Club. By 1944, she may or may not have known that her invitation-only recitals and vanity recordings of operatic arias had attracted a cult following. “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” Jenkins famously (maybe apocryphally) said.

But soon after reading the New York Post’s damning assessment of her Carnegie Hall debut (“she can sing anything but notes”), Jenkins suffered a heart attack and, within weeks, died. Today, her notoriety endures in five plays and three films, including a new Meryl Streep movie, and in a tradition of private entertainments reminiscent of Jenkins’s own soirees: at midcentury critic and photographer Carl van Vechten’s parties, “Often the evenings were spent innocently, writhing on the floor in laughter at Florence Foster Jenkins.” Streep first heard her at a theater students’ gathering. Even I heard first Jenkins’s “Queen of the Night” over digestifs at a New York dinner party. Read More »

On the Shelf

July 13, 2011 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • Theodore Roszak, a chronicler of the 1960s who coined the term counterculture, died this week at 77.
  • Hugh Grant for Prime Minister.
  • Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo has won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “Hitting Budapest.”
  • Penelope Lively calls Kindle readers “bloodless nerds.”
  • In the spirit of “misery loves company,” the Web site My Unfinished Novels encourages frustrated writers to “share your creative failures.”
  • Science fiction and religion.
  • Harry Potter and religion.
  • Miami artist Agustina Woodgate calls herself a “poetry bomber”: she sews tiny bits of poetry into garments in area thrift stores. “Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be,” she says.
  • A brief history of title design.
  • Reading retreats: book lovers’ dream vacations.
  • Bill Keller is tired of his reporters who want to write books.
  • Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca gets the Broadway treatment, for good or ill.