Hablamos muchas veces de la cantidad de frikies que surgen gracias a internet, la televisión, como si todo fuera un fenómeno nuevo. Sin embargo hay terribles evidencias de que personas de este calibre ya existían mucho tiempo antes. Florence Foster Jenkins es sin duda una de estas personas. Empeñada en ser cantante de ópera, Florence dilapidó su fortuna en desarrollar una carrera musical atroz, pero que sin embargo le llevó a la fama y a un reconocimiento tal que perdura hasta nuestros días.
Florence Foster nació en Pennsylvania en 1868 dentro de una familia acomodada. Su madre hija de banquero y su padre rico también de nacimiento. Recibió la típica educación de niña de alta sociedad victoriana, y comenzó a tocar el piano desde pequeña. YA desde su más tiernainfancia era ella consciente de su vocación y ante su petición de realizar una carrera musical su padre se negó a pagarla, ya que era un hombre terriblemente conservador que opinaba que las mujeres debían estar en casa. Por esto fue enviada a Filadelfia para contraer matrimonio con Frank Norton Jenkins de profesión médico.
A partir de ese momento Florence se imbuyó en los ambientes musicales de Filadelfia y fundó el Club Verdi, donde se daban clases de canto y música y se llevaban a cabo recitales, donde ella llevó a cabo su primera actuación en 1912. Finalmete en 1928 murió la madre y ella recibió el resto de la herencia y su total libertad para invertirla en lo que quisiera, su carrera como soprano.
Las capacidades de Florence Foster Jenkins pueden ser denominadas como atroces, más que una interprete es una perpetradora de arias. Su incapacidad para el ritmo y la entonación, eran en cierta medida disimuladas por su acompañante de piano durante sus 32 años de carrera, Mr. Cosmé McMoon, sin embargo su falta total de talento era imposible de ocultar. A pesar de sus nulos dones para la música Florence consiguió rápidamente la fama que tanto anhelaba.
Ella misma se comparaba con las grandes sopranos de su época, los críticos la adoraban y las entradas para sus actuaciones se agotaban semanas antes. Una de sus declaraciones más famosas fue: "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing." (“La gente podrá decir que no puedo cantar, pero nadie podrá decir que no canté”), lo que definé a la erfección su personalidad y su postura ante la vida. Por que el que ella cantó es un hecho, que gracias a dios, ha sido grabado para la posteridad.
Otro crítico dijo de ella "She sounds like a cuckoo in its cups” (suena como un pájaro cuco en su nido). Precisamente su fama le sobrevino, no por ser mediocre, sino por ser peor. Los motes que recibió durante su época son variados: "la reina del aria oscura" ('Queen of the night' era uno de sus temas favoritos), "la diva inversa" o "la primera dama del patinaje sobre la escala musical" (apreciese el juego de palabras entre patinar=desafinar)
En sus recitales solía destrozaba arias de Mozart, Verdi, Strauss o Lieder e incluso tenía un repertorio de canción ligera. Entre sus favoritas estaba Clavelitos de Joaquin Valverde, que desgraciadamente no fue nunca grabada. Eran famosas sus puestas en escena, ya que cambiaba de vestuario como mínimo tres veces durante la actuación. Los vestidos eran normalmente diseñados por ella misma y eran destacados por lo recargados y extremadamente lujosos. Durante la perpetración de Clavelitos lucía un chal español y un cesto lleno de flores que lanzaba al público. En cierta ocasión se armó tal pitote la mujer que el cesto entero cayó al público, para las risas de todos los presentes.
Sin embargo ella era feliz y tras cada actuación recibía enormes aplausos y ovaciones ante lo cual sonreía extasiada. En cierta ocasión murmuro: “didn't Frank Sinatra arouse the same sort of buoyant enthusiasm among his adoring bobby soxers?” (¿Consiguió Frank Sinatra arrancar tanto entusiasmo de sus adorados bobby soxers?, que no se como traducir y me haría bien ayuda)
A pesar de la enorme demanda por escucharla sus recitales se limitaban a uno anual con plazas muy limitadas en el Ritz-Carlton ballroom en Nueva York, normalmente ocupadas por miembros del club de mujeres Verdi y algunos amigos de alta alcurnia. Sin embargo la carrera musical de Florence hizo que muchas de sus amistades de la alta sociedad le dieran la espalda. Las malas lenguas decían que la mayoría de los asistentes a sus recitales iban a partirse la caja (se entiende el porqué).
En 1943 sufrío un accidente en taxi y comenzó un litigio con la empresa de taxi que ganó. Sin embargo la artista afirmaba que gracias al accidente sus capacidades como soprano habían mejorado notablemente y estaba muy agradecida con el conductor, al que envió una caja de los puros más caros que encontró.
Su album póstumo The Glory (????) of the Human Voice (con exclamaciones incluidas) es una recopilación de las arias que cantaba con más frecuencia y que fue grabado en su único y último recital en el Carnegie Hall de Nueva York el 25 de octubre de 1944, a la edad de 76 años. Por este concierto se llegaron a pagar entradas hasta a 20 dólares, lo cual en esa fecha suponía toda una fortuna.
La edición del disco se le debe a Jenny Williams y Thomas Burns que recuperaron la grabación de los estudios RCA Victor's Custom Record. Aunque su intención era darles un uso personal, la escucha de la grabación les dejó tan ¿patidifusos? que decidieron publicar el albúm, donde recoge también al vida de la ‘artista’.
Justo un mes y un día después de su gran recital Florence murió de un ataque al corazón, sin embargo sus allegados afirman que murió feliz por el éxito conseguido durante su carrera. El 1991 el pianista de Florence fue entrevistado en la radio declarando: “Like many artists of unusual ability, Florence Foster Jenkins has been understood by the world” (“Como muchos artistas de habilidades inusuales, Florence Foster Jenkins no fue entendida por el mundo”). Yo pienso que dio de lleno en el clavo, sin duda sus habilidades se pueden definir como inusuales, porque como una de las peores cantantes de ópera de la historia es, prácticamente sin duda, insuperable en su terreno.
En este link podeis ver y oir una invitación de Florence http://www.brumm.com/cards/flojenkins.html
También en wikipedia es posible escuchar una de sus arias: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Foster_Jenkins
Sin duda es imprescindible escuchar a la diva para comprender su grandeza, de lo contrario es imcomprensible el porqué de su fama.
Para próximos capítulos de perpetradores de ópera dejo al maestro de la Jenkins, que trabajó en el Metropolitan de Nueva York durante 12 años y en la audición del cual cantó un aria de soprano con una letra en inglés un tanto escatológica.
Aquí os adjunto la entrevista entera en inglés:
I presume you have lots of questions, and they're going to be answered in the following interview with Miss Jenkins' accompanist for many years, Cosmé McMoon:
Q. Like many artists of unusual ability, Florence Foster Jenkins has been understood by the world and even by her most devoted followers in a partial, limited sort of way. What is needed for a full appreciation of numbers such as we hear today is not only background of a sort but a clear explanation of her personality by someone both familiar and sympathetic with its unusual development. It is for this reason that we are fortunate in being able to interview Mr. Cosmé McMoon, who coached Mme Jenkins and accompanied her on these records. Toward getting as complete a picture as possible, Mr. McMoon, would you be willing to tell our listeners something about Mme J's history prior to her belated concert career?
A. I think I could. Mme Jenkins was born in Wilkes-Barre PA around 1868, of very wealthy parents, but very early she demonstrated this desire to sing, and her parents objected to the excruciating quality of her voice, and in her early teens she ran away from home and went to Philadelphia to try to make her way. There she suffered great hardships and privations until her father, hearing of it, came down to town and took her back home. She was restored to her social and wealthy position, but with the proviso that she wouldn't sing anymore. Therefore, during the whole lifetime of her father, she did not sing but she had this terrific repression. Finally, when he died, he left her very well provided for and her mother was a little more lenient than her father had been, so she was allowed to take singing lessons again, but not to sing in public. And her mother died in 1928, and at that time she was left this additional fortune and completely free to pursue her own way, so that is when she decided to make her concert career. At that time she must have been about sixty years old.
Q. Did anyone encourage her in this idea of taking up a singing career seriously? Who were the people that were instrumental in this?
A. Well, she had sung at small affairs in her big musical club, which was called The Birdy Club (En realidad se está refiriendo al Verdi Club, no al Club de los pajaritos). They had a ball yearly, and in the last few years she had created an intermission in the ball during which she sang an aria, and so great was the enthusiasm and the mirth that people clamored for more. She was encouraged to sing more and more, both by professionals and laymen. There were a great many singers from the Metropolitan in this club - I think Enrico Caruso was one of the founders - and all these people, to kid her along, told her that she was the most wonderful singer that ever lived, and encouraged her that way.
Q. Through which of these activities, Mr. McMoon, did you first come to know Mme J?
A. I met Mme Jenkins socially about a year before her mother's death, and I saw her socially every once in a while, and, knowing that I was a concert pianist, she asked me, when she decided upon her first concert, if I would coach her program and supervise the numbers, which I did.
Q. Before we go on to any further description of Mme J's career, I think it would be appropriate if you could tell us, right now, some of the most memorable numbers that she performed, describing perhaps the costumes she was known for and her stage presence in general.
A. Well, I might say that every number was memorable, the way she performed it, because it was not only a performance of this sort that we hear on the records, but she added histrionics to every number, generally acting the action, if it were an aria, or other appropriate action if it were a descriptive song, or else she would go into different dances during these numbers, which were extremely hilarious. I might say that I think her most unusual number was a fast Spanish song by the name of Clavelitos. During this, she insisted on having introductory music, to which she danced a Spanish step in the style of a fandango. She came out dressed in a high comb and mantilla, with a gorgeous Spanish shawl and carrying a basket of carnations. During the actual singing of the number, she would pause altogether and toss these flowers out into the audience, with shouts of ¡Olé! And this created such a pandemonium at the end that she was forced to repeat it always. Then of course she had thrown the flowers out, so she asked the audience if they would return them so she could toss them out again, and many brought them up to the stage, others threw them up. When the basket was refilled, she started again, only this time they accompanied the whole thing with hand-clapping and each toss of a flower, for instance at Carnegie Hall, was accompanied by a great salvo of "¡Olé!" from the whole house of several thousand people. There were many other unusual numbers, each one in its own costume and action.
Q. In what way was the audience able to contain itself, or to maintain some semblance of approval during all this, Mr. McMoon?
A. Why, there wasn't any question of semblance of approval, because they approved of it wholeheartedly, but the audience nearly always tried not to hurt her feelings by outright laughing, so they developed a convention that whenever she came to a particularly excruciating discord or something like that, where they had to laugh, they burst into these salvos of applause and whistles and the noise was so great that they could laugh at liberty.
Q. Perhaps what's even more important, how did Mme Jenkins herself rationalize these performances? How was she able to interpret this audience reaction as encouragement?
A. She had gotten a conception that is because, at that time, Frank Sinatra had started to sing, and the teenagers used to faint during his notes and scream, so she thought she was producing the same kind of an effect, and when these salvos of applause came, she took them as great marks of approval of some tremendous vocal tour de force, and she loved that. She would pause altogether and bow, many times, and then resume the song.
Q. At this time, she was led to draw comparisons, wasn't she, between herself and other serious divas of the opera stage.
A. Oh, yes! Naturally she must have made comparisons, but I do think that she could not hear her own work in the proper pitch, and that's one of the characteristics of her singing. Now, I know sometimes she had At Homes, with different guests, and she would put two records on the Victrola to have a voting upon which was the better. She would put The Bell Song by herself and by Galli-Curci, and then she would hand little ballots out and you were supposed to vote which one was the best. Of course they all voted for her, and one woman once voted for Galli-Curci so Mme said, "How could you mistake that! My tones are much fuller than that!" So she really didn't hear the atrocious pitches in these things. She used to sit delightedly and listen for hours to her recordings."
Q. I know a lot in the public's mind has been made of the appearance of the great final appearance she made at Carnegie Hall. Would you be willing to recount some of the unique characteristics or some of the especially interesting things that happened during that performance?
A. Yes, her performance in Carnegie Hall was the most remarkable thing that has happened there, I think. I was supposed to play for her that night, and when I approached the hall I could hardly get near it, because the crowd stretched all the way to the Little Carnegie and around Seventh Avenue, and you hardly mill through them. You had to prove your identity to get in, and inside the house held a record audience. It seemed that the people were hanging on the rafters, besides taking up every inch of available standing room. When she came out to sing an old English group, she came out in a sort of shepherdess's gown with a shepherd's crook, holding it, and the ruckus was so great that it lasted five minutes before there was enough quiet for her to begin. Then the concert went on with the most noisy and abandoned applause that I have - I have never seen such a scene, either a bullfight or at the Yale Bowl after a winning touchdown. When she sang Clavelitos, one famous actress had to be carried out of her box because she became hysterical.
Q. During the years since Mme J's death, there have been many attempts, have there not, to imitate her, on the part of other singers less - less qualified, or less completely sincere, as she was, about that type of vocal art?
A. Oh, yes. Such a golden shower as the audiences which she was able to attract are certainly a temptation to anyone, and many have tried since to give studiedly discordant recitals at Town Hall and different places, or trying to make the music funny that way, but they have no success at all, and they just make a dismal evening, and the reason is that they're not sincere in their efforts, as Mme Jenkins was. She is inimitable, and many have tried also to imitate her, but without success.