Founded in 2012, the mission of Opera In The Rock is to enrich the cultural life of Arkansas through opera by utilizing local, state and regional artistic talents and to build future audiences for this rich art form through performances and presentations for school-age children.
The upcoming production of Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins features award winning soprano Christine Donahue. She has performed with numerous opera companies throughout the United States, Canada and abroad including New York City Opera, Cleveland Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Winnipeg and Edmonton Opera Companies, Arkansas Opera Theatre and the Hong Kong Opera to name a few. Concert performances include engagements with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Houston Symphony and Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Ms. Donahue has won special acclaim for her portrayal of Lucia di Lammermoor, Violetta in La Traviata, the title roles of Tosca and Madame Butterfly and both Pamina and the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute among others. Most recently she’s been portraying the infamous Florence Foster Jenkins – known for her inability to sing! – in the play Souvenir by Stephen Temperley. Both sopranos hail from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania! In her early years, she was a winner of the Luciano Pavarotti/Opera Company of Philadelphia International Competition, recipient of a Martha Baird Rockefeller Grant and Sullivan Grant, and took second place in the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions.
The larger-than-life role of Florence Foster Jenkins is one that Ms. Donahue is very familiar with. She has performed the role multiple times over the past five years. “I think there’s something for everyone in this show. You don’t have to be an opera fan to enjoy it, but it helps to know that the title character, Florence, fancied herself to be quite a wonderful singer when in truth she was terrible.”
Souvenir is based on the true story of one of opera’s most infamous stars. The production is set in a Greenwich Village supper club in 1964, where Cosmé McMoon flashes back to the musical career of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy socialite with a famously uncertain sense of pitch and key. In 1932, she met pianist Cosmé McMoon, and the two teamed up in the hope of achieving success. Over the next dozen years, their bizarre partnership yielded hilariously off-key recitals that became the talk of New York, earned them cultish fame.
Ms. Donahue took a few moments away from rehearsal to answer a few questions for us.
What can the audience expect from this performance?
The audience can expect a LOT of laughs. The comment most frequently heard is “I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.”
You have to sing badly in the show. Is that difficult?
Quite the opposite, actually! Its fun playing around with the pitches and rhythms. I think my age helps. Some of that isn’t faked – just kidding! The biggest challenge singing wise comes at the end of the show.
How is this production bringing something new to differentiate it from other performances of Souvenir?
When my colleague Tim asked me if I’d consider playing the part of Florence Foster Jenkins, he had no idea that Florence and I are practically from the same hometown. She’s from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Kingston directly across the river and attended Wilkes College in Wilkes-Barre. I’ve known about her since my college days.
How is this character like you? Different?
After reading through the play, it wasn’t a matter of wanting to do it, I had to do it. I’m coming to that “time when my music will desert me” and so many of the lines Florence says just resonate with me. We’re alike in how we feel about music and its meaning in our lives. We’re different, however, in that she was over-the-top confident and secure in everything she did. I had my doubts.
What do you like most about this character?
I like Florence’s positivity, her ability to look at the glass as always half full. It would be easy to have her come across as some kind of a ninny, but she doesn’t. She’s delightful and charming.
What celebrity performer would you like to see tackle this character?
Well, I’m going to assume (always a bad idea) that a number of people have seen Meryl Streep in the movie Florence Foster Jenkins. The funny thing is that I used Meryl’s portrayal of Julia Child to inform the way I say Florence’s lines. I also think Helena Bonham Carter could/would do a great job portraying Florence – on the quirky side.
Without giving anything away, what’s your favorite line of dialogue?
“I think something goes awry.”
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins will run for only two special performances benefitting Opera In The Rock so be sure to get your tickets!