Fact-Checking Netflix’s ‘Maestro’ on Bernstein

Fact-Checking Netflix’s ‘Maestro’ on Bernstein: Crafting a film about Leonard Bernstein involves delving deep into the iconic moments of this legend’s life, his pivotal relationships, and, undoubtedly, immersing oneself in the brilliance of his compositions as a composer and conductor. In the creation of the upcoming Netflix biographical film “Maestro,” screenwriters Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer spent an extensive five-year period deeply engrossed in Bernstein’s legacy.

Fact-Checking Netflix's 'Maestro' on Bernstein:


Singer reflects on the intricacies of Bernstein’s music, remarking, “Certain pieces from Lenny can be intricate and demanding.” Singer, known for his contributions to notable biographical dramas such as “Spotlight,” “The Post,” and the nostalgic space exploration film “First Man,” further adds, “Yet, understanding his compositions seems more straightforward than mastering the complexities of piloting a Gemini spacecraft.”

In the film “Maestro,” directed by Bradley Cooper who also stars in it, authenticity intertwines with moments of creative interpretation. For instance, a scene depicts Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein arriving at Boston’s Tanglewood Music Center in the late 1980s, with the backdrop of R.E.M.’s song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” which subtly references him.

“It wouldn’t be unexpected,” remarks Singer with a hint of humor. His guiding principle is clear: “There’s room for slight adjustments” regarding time and setting, as long as it doesn’t alter the core essence or message. However, when the narrative deviates significantly from reality, Singer admits to feeling somewhat uneasy.
Singer then delves into a detailed examination, distinguishing between the authentic elements and those creatively adjusted in pivotal scenes from “Maestro.”

“Did Leonard Bernstein Truly Rise to Fame Due to a Last-Minute Carnegie Hall Opportunity?”

In a scene set in 1943, a 25-year-old Bernstein, then serving as the assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, receives an unexpected call after a late-night event. With guest conductor Bruno Walter indisposed, Bernstein is thrust into the spotlight for a crucial national radio broadcast that very evening, without any prior rehearsal. This true-to-life incident not only unfolded as depicted but also catapulted Bernstein to immediate fame. Singer remarks, “The nation tuned in to witness Lenny’s conducting prowess, propelling him to overnight stardom.”
The depiction of Bernstein hastily descending the stairs in his bathrobe and directly entering Carnegie Hall is grounded in reality, according to Singer. He confirms that Bernstein’s residence above the renowned venue would indeed have allowed for such a swift transition.

“Did Leonard Bernstein Engage in Relationships with Men Prior to Meeting Wife Felicia Montealegre?”

“Maestro” delves into Leonard Bernstein’s relationships, including his close bond with clarinetist David Oppenheim, portrayed by Matt Bomer. While Lenny develops feelings for and eventually marries actress Felicia, played by Carey Mulligan, David establishes a family with actress Ellen Adler. The narrative unfolds to a moment in the park where Lenny and David share an intimate exchange. With a touch of humor, Lenny quips to Ellen and David’s daughter, “Would you believe I’ve been romantically involved with both your parents?” This jest was a familiar one for Bernstein, as Singer learned from Adler’s daughter, considering Adler herself had a romantic history with the composer.

Bernstein’s affection for Oppenheim was profound; not only was Oppenheim the best man at Bernstein’s wedding, but many of Bernstein’s most evocative compositions prominently feature the clarinet, as noted by Singer. Delving into personal correspondence between the two at the Library of Congress, Singer and Cooper discovered letters that deeply resonated with them. Singer reflects, “The letters were profoundly moving; they illuminated the depth of their bond. While Lenny undoubtedly had various relationships throughout his life, the connection between these two individuals was especially poignant for us.”

“Did Jamie Bernstein Truly Discuss Her Father Leonard’s Sexual Preferences?”

In “Maestro,” set in the 1970s, conflicts emerge between Felicia and Lenny as the composer forms a close bond with Tommy Cothran, portrayed by Gideon Glick. Felicia urges Lenny to address with their daughter Jamie, played by Maya Hawke, the rumors surrounding his relationships at Tanglewood. Felicia sternly instructs, “Do not disclose the truth to her.” In response, Lenny opts to mislead Jamie, attributing the situation to professional rivalry.

In her 2019 memoir, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” Jamie delves into this particular memory. Singer and Cooper drew inspiration from Jamie’s insights when shaping elements of “Maestro.” Singer reflects, “Jamie speculates that perhaps her mother influenced that decision. She firmly believes her father was consistently candid.” Singer further notes, “When Jamie’s memoir was published, it provided invaluable details that allowed us to incorporate specific, authentic moments into the narrative.”

“Did Leonard and Felicia Bernstein Actually Experience a Significant Disagreement During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?”

Fed up with Lenny’s behavior, Felicia reaches her breaking point and leaves some of his personal items, including his pillow, slippers, and toothbrush, outside their Manhattan residence after he fails to return home one evening. On Thanksgiving morning, tensions escalate between Lenny and Felicia, culminating in a heated exchange. Felicia delivers a cutting remark, cautioning, “If you continue down this path, you’ll end up alone.” This poignant moment is juxtaposed with the serene passing of the Snoopy float from the Macy’s parade outside their window.

“That particular detail about Snoopy really resonated with Bradley,” Singer remarks. “The inclusion of the fight was always a part of our narrative plan, and it seems Jamie Bernstein’s book hinted at it. Whether she shared the Snoopy reference directly with Bradley or it was mentioned in her memoir, he became fixated on incorporating it into the story.”

“Did Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Reconcile During his Noteworthy Performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony?”

A pivotal moment in “Maestro” showcases a six-minute portrayal of Bernstein conducting Mahler’s second symphony at England’s Ely Cathedral in 1973. Although Bernstein and Felicia were estranged during this period, as the symphony reaches its climactic conclusion and the audience erupts in applause, Lenny rushes backstage to share a passionate moment with his wife amidst the standing ovation, symbolizing their reconciliation.
Singer notes, “The music, being the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, mirrors the revival of their relationship, making it fitting.” However, the sequence of events in the film diverges from reality. While the concert took place in 1973, the couple’s separation didn’t occur until the autumn of 1976. Fortunately, their time apart was brief. Singer adds, “By January, Lenny came to a realization: ‘I can’t continue like this. I yearn for her.’ Similarly, Felicia felt the same sentiment of longing for him.”

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