For nearly ten years Mrs. Florence Foster Jenkins has given an annual song recital in Manhattan. Mrs. Jenkins was born some 60 years ago in Philadelphia where she studied to be a pianist. In Manhattan she founded the Verdi Society to keep the name of the composer alive. Her father was a rich Wilkes-Barre lawyer who died 25 years ago. Mrs. Jenkins is well able to pay for a hall. Last week she hired the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and smartly-dressed New Yorkers fairly fought for tickets to get in and see Florence Foster Jenkins perform.
Mrs. Jenkins appeared in flame-colored velvet, with yellow ringlets piled high on her head. For a starter she picked Brahms' Die Mainacht, subtitled on her gilt program as "O singer, if thou canst not dream, leave this song unsung." Mrs. Jenkins could dream if she could not sing. With her hands clasped to her heart she passed on to Vergebliches Standchen, which she had labeled "The Serenade in Vain."
The audience, as Mrs. Jenkins' audiences invariably do, behaved very badly. In the back of the hall men and women in full evening dress made no attempt to control their laughter. Dignified gentlemen sat with handkerchiefs stuffed in their mouths and tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks. But Mrs. Jenkins went bravely on. For a Spanish group she wore a mantilla, carried a big feather fan, undertook a few little dancing steps to convey more spirit. While she was getting her breath, the Pascarella chamber group played Dvorak's Quintet and cameramen photographed the happy laughing faces in the audience.
Mrs. Jenkins' voice was a little tired but back she came in blue & cream satin, a rhinestone stomacher and a rhinestone tiara. Cinemen turned their cameras on her while she struggled with the Vissi d'Arte from Tosca. Last year she sang a flower song while tossing roses into the audience. In her excitement the basket slipped from her hand, hit an old gentle man on the head. Last week she repeated the flower song, pleased her friends by again hurling the basket.
After "The Ant and the Grasshopper'' and an arrangement of the Blue Danube" made by her friend, Cosme McMoon, Mrs. Jenkins was too exhausted for encores. Flushed and happy, surrounded by flowers, she made a little speech in which she asked members of the audience to write and tell her which songs they had liked the best. Said she : 'It may not be important to you, but it is very important to me. Next week I am singing in Ithaca."