Posts Tagged ‘talent’
September 22, 2016 | by Alison Kinney
Florence Foster Jenkins is remembered as a failed opera singer. What can we learn by listening to her today?
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 »
December 14, 2011 | by Jonathan Gharraie
We have to get our stories straight, she and I, but first we have to get John Updike’s stories straight. I have just bought the Everyman edition of The Maples Stories, and I am trying to describe to my date the arc of the Maples’ marriage and why I think these stories are successfully erotic, how they bring the best out of Updike.
I am actually talking about myself, about all the stuff I’ve read, but that’s okay. As last of the male narcissists, Updike would understand. She understands. We are both rehearsing our lines for the evening over a curry somewhere in North London. It is exceptionally, reproachfully cold, and neither of us feels particularly well-equipped to withstand the inclement weather. My shirt makes me look like a Bond villain and feels like a rumpled parachute. The curry is the wrong kind of hot. She asks the most difficult question of all.
“How are you going to pass me off?”
I struggle to reply. She is both my date and not my date. She is the girlfriend of an old friend, and I have been instructed to show her a good time, in return for temporary London accommodation. I am being conspicuously trusted. We are getting to know each other, having only met twice before tonight, but I must be very transparent because she quickly settles on an apt description of our relationship.
“I know,” she says, patting me gently on the arm, “we’ll say I’m your chaperone.”
She makes me sound like a debutante and, in a sense, this is accurate. This is the first time I have attended the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, but the same is true for her. Read More »
June 4, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
Chapeau! to the Parisians among the newly announced New Yorker 20. Chris Adrian, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Nicole Krauss, Yiyun Li, and Wells Tower—we salute you!
Further chapeaux to our colleagues at The New Yorker for assembling the thing. We can hardly imagine a more thankless task. Here on White Street each of us can name writers we think should be on there, and aren’t, and others who leave us scratching our heads. (And yet, weirdly, no two of us name the same people.) Multiply that by a million subscribers, or whatever no-doubt-large fraction reads the stories … that’s a lot of Monday-evening quarterbacks.
Even on a normal week, it’s got to be tough finding stories that could conceivably interest a million different readers. In this case, there’s no falling back on household names, since with the exception of Mr. Foer, our micro generation hasn’t produced one. For reasons that may have something to do with writing programs, or Microsoft Word, or Grand Theft Auto, or just three generations of TV, we thirty-something Americans tend to languish in a protracted adolescence on the fiction-producing front. The pool of really bankable youngsters gets smaller with each passing decade, even as book and magazine publishers get more and more desperate for a bona-fide literary star. (No wonder Team Eustace has drafted a ringer from north of the border. Congratulations, Bezmozgis! The flag pin’s in the mail!)
Most of the New Yorker 20 are at work on their second or third book. It is, as David Remnick told The New York Times, “a group of promise.” May their greatest achievements lie before them, may the Muses light their way, and may the winds of fortune remain at their backs!