Florence Foster Jenkins is alive and well and living in Edinburgh. She, you may recall, was an eccentric American millionairess convinced of her own greatness as a soprano. She hired Carnegie Hall in the 1940s, at the age of 76, and filled it with loyal fans who saw the spectacle of her awfulness combined with her sublime confidence. Her few recordings are classics of unintentional comedy.
Truthfully, Khor al Ming, from Singapore, is only a pale ghost of Jenkins. She has all the requisites of poor intonation, poor timing, lack of acting ability, lack of pitch, poor diction and inability to sustain notes, but lacks the energetic enthusiasm which made Jenkins great. It was Flo, after all, who threw out roses to the audience, and then, carried away, threw out the basket.
Ms Khor’s programme combines Western – Bolcom, Foster, Debussy, Weill – and Eastern songs from Japan, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The Eastern end is fairly Westernised, conventionally tuneful but with some sparse quarter-tone grace notes. These would be more effective if some of the Western tonal notes weren’t themselves flat.The voice is what used to be called silvery - thin, floating, lots of vibrato - but gave out at regular intervals. It was like listening to a boy soprano whose voice was breaking. It may be that this was the result of indisposition, as the frequent but discreet hawking between numbers suggests, but this reporter can only record what he heard.
It would help to know what the songs were about, or even the lyrics, but there is hardly any chat between numbers and what there is, is inconsequential. The programme’s no help either. Ms Khor has not learnt her numbers - or even her spiel, which she reads doggedly off a music stand. Getting rid of it might establish some connection with the audience.
On the plus side, she is ably supported by piano, Chinese flute and drums; we should hear more of them. In Kuda Hitam, from her native Singapore, Ms Khor is animated, moves well and is clearly enjoying herself, but it is too late to save the show.