The Incredibly True Story of How I Pissed Off Robert Goulet’s Widow

I blame one of my Facebook friends, I really do. She posted the video – I viewed it and I told myself, “Don’t read the comments, don’t read them – it’s like reading comments in the news. You’ll just get in trouble.” Well. I did.

As most of my friends know, Julie Andrews is why I’m a singer. So when I see her doing something that is, at least by contemporary standards, wildly inappropriate, I cringe. So when I saw a video of her singing “Porgy, I’s your woman now” with Robert Goulet (another childhood favorite), all I could think was “facepalm.” It is sung beautifully. How could it not be? But there are several things about it that are just wrong.

  1. The opera is written specifically for African-Americans. The Gershwin estate forbids productions of the opera from casting non-African-Americans.
  2. Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet are the two whitest people on the face of the earth.
  3. I really have trouble with white people singing black dialect. I even have trouble with black people singing black dialect if it sounds contrived. In other words, if it’s too self-consciously done. 
  4. Julie Andrews is the queen of English diction. Proper British diction. It’s why I fell in love with her in Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. Not only is she the whitest person in the world, she is the most British. Not only is Porgy and Bess African-American, it’s African-American
  5. While many songs from P&B are standards – “Summertime,” “I got plenty of nuttin'”, “It ain’t necessarily so,” – “Porgy, I’s your woman now” is not. It is show-specific. 
  6. Even if this was part of a Gershwin tribute, there are other duets that could’ve worked.
So I intended to watch the video, maybe repost it, and that’d be the end of it. And then I decided to see what other people thought.
And someone said [paraphrasing], “Wow, that’s amazing. Can you imagine if they’d done that together on Broadway?”
I couldn’t help it. I felt compelled to educate (yeah, I know, no one asked me). “Are you kidding? Do you not know that this is an African-American opera? They couldn’t do this on Broadway. In fact, this duet probably should never have happened.”
As soon as I hit send, I knew that last line shouldn’t have been written.
A few hours later, I had an email that said, “Vera Goulet has responded to your post.”
Did she ever. In fact, even though my post was in response specifically to the idea of their being in that show on Broadway, and to a lesser extent about the inappropriateness of the duet, Mrs. Goulet took it personally. And let me have it. Also personally.
She wrote approximately 20 posts over the space of 12 hours about how vane [sic], ignorant, stupid and arrogant I was. And how she assumed I was a failed frustrated wannabe singer/actress and, after Googling me, that she was right in that assumption. I was nothing more than a vocal coach in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I was as far from Broadway as I could be. I was a nothing and a nobody. In listening to my singing on my website, Julie Andrews had nothing to worry about. (Did I say she did???) And I was not going to destroy her husband’s legacy. (Did I say I wanted to???)
I tried to apologize and to make clear that I loved both of them as artists and that the piece was sung beautifully, but that I did not like the piece. It was not to be accepted. 
I also made it clear that while I apologized for the comment, I did not apologize for my profession. I am a voice teacher. I am proud to be a voice teacher. I love my job and it is my passion.
Mrs. Goulet’s response was that I gave myself too much credit. Then other people started posting insults – one of which said, “If you know so much, why haven’t we ever heard of you? When was your last world tour? When did you sing a command performance for the Queen of England?”
At that point, I decided to delete all of my posts because I simply did not want to have any more emails from strangers attacking me. I won’t even look at the comments to see if anyone else has attacked or even defended me.
And the thing I feel the worst about is that people misunderstood my opinion as my disliking either of the artists. The times were different. I’m sure if I saw it back in the early 70s (guessing the time based on Goulet’s sideburns), I would’ve loved it back then. I’m basing my opinion on what I know now.
While I was shocked at the vehemence of the Widow Goulet’s attack, and the personal nature of it, after doing a little Googling of my own, I found that I am not the first person to feel her wrath.
It sounds like she adored her husband and he adored her. The part in the article about him taking care of her after she wrecked his car in a terrible accident and had to go through massive reconstruction surgery – it touched me. I’m sure she feels his loss keenly and I respect that. I’m sorry that I offended her and that she took it so personally.
But I reiterate – I am proud of my profession. This is my passion. It may have begun as something to do between singing gigs, but this is who I am now and I could not be happier with the direction my life has taken.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

3 thoughts on “The Incredibly True Story of How I Pissed Off Robert Goulet’s Widow

  1. Wow, that's quite a story. Welcome to the club! I have been in a couple of these uncomfortable situations where it comes down to someone expressing that I don't have a right to speak out because I'm not famous or perfectly pedigreed. But my chew-outs have always been from people a couple more degrees of separation from someone famous. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. I just want to specify that I'm not being xenophobic or practicing reverse racism by saying that Julie Andrews can't sing African-American or American music. I'm just saying if the character of the music implies a certain ethnicity/regionalism, it can't be sung in a different way. I don't want to hear her sing Ado Annie either. I also don't want to hear someone with a southern accent sing something that is supposed to be British or any other accent. No Dolly Parton singing \”Wouldn't it be loverly\” or \”The Rain in Spain.\” Don't want to hear Trace Adkins singing \”If I were a rich man.\” Nope.

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