Fact & Fiction in Netflix’s Leonard Bernstein film “Maestro”
The latest Netflix release follows the journey of the iconic conductor Leonard Bernstein, but intriguingly, it doesn’t extensively uncover the creative process behind his masterpieces like Candide and West Side Story. Instead, Maestro, led by Bradley Cooper both in front of and behind the camera, hones in on Bernstein’s intricate relationships, notably with his wife, Felicia Montealegre, and the array of romantic entanglements throughout his life.
The film starts with a quote from Bernstein: “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them, and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.”
The film primarily centers on Bernstein’s struggles and connections, mirroring aspects of his real life. Notably, it doesn’t shy away from portraying Bernstein’s openly acknowledged extramarital affairs, including relationships with men. In one instance, a letter to his clarinetist, David Oppenheim, hints at Bernstein’s suggestion of a marriage as a cover. Maestro suggests that the friendship between Bernstein and Oppenheim might have extended beyond professional collaboration, drawing implications from the letter’s hints about Oppenheim’s doubts regarding his marriage to singer Judy Holliday.”
Among the treasure trove of iconic Bernstein videos on YouTube – which Bradley Cooper said he watched religiously while preparing to direct and star in Maestro – this particular gem shows the legendary maestro live in concert at the Vienna Musikverein, with no need for a baton, or even his hands, to coax a great performance from the Vienna Philharmonic.
An early scene finds Bernstein in 1943, when the then-25-year-old assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic gets a 9 a.m. wake-up call after a night of partying. Guest conductor Bruno Walter has fallen ill and Bernstein is needed that night for a national radio broadcast, with no rehearsal. That not only happened in real life but it rocketed him to instant stardom. “The whole country was listening to Lenny conduct and it made him a sensation,” Singer says.
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