A Great Performance Of An Awful Singer
I can think of many reasons to see “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the new biographical comedy starring Meryl Streep as the titular socialite who fancied herself an operatic soprano, even though she couldn’t carry a tune. But after listening to the soundtrack to the film, I cannot think of any reason to revisit it a second time. That being said, these recordings represent the latest in a long line of great performances by Ms. Streep, whose previous roles have required her to master foreign accents and languages, and even the violin (in “Music From the Heart”). Here, she works hand in glove with musician and actor Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”) to recreate Jenkins’ notoriously off-key, off-time, caterwauling performances of Mozart, Delibes, and more. It’s a brilliant facsimile, but would you really want to pop this on your iPod while you’re on the treadmill?
Thankfully, most of the rest of the album is made up of Alexandre Desplat’s cocktail lounge-y score, an alternately witty and wistful commentary on Jenkins’ life and career. She lived in a bubble, surrounded by wealthy friends who dared not spill that she was the Worst Singer Of All Time. Five days after a Carnegie Hall debut that was savaged by the critics, she suffered a heart attack and died.
For comparison’s sake, Streep’s performance is matched on the soundtrack by Anne Sofie Von Otter, and rising soprano Aida Garifullina. Some period music by Fats Waller rounds out the album. Like Jenkins’ own recordings, the soundtrack for “Florence Foster Jenkins” remains destined to be a curio.
Below, an explanation of Jenkins' mystique from CBS Sunday Morning: