Sex, drugs and... classical music in Mozart In The Jungle

Mozart In The Jungle stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an eccentric conductor who has imaginary conversations with a young Mozart (Lorenzo Zingone, right), from whom he draws inspiration.
Mozart In The Jungle stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an eccentric conductor who has imaginary conversations with a young Mozart (Lorenzo Zingone, right), from whom he draws inspiration.PHOTO: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Based on a 2005 tell-all memoir by oboist Blair Tindall, which was subtitled Sex, Drugs And Classical Music, Mozart In The Jungle imagines the juicy goings-on in the lives of a group of classical musicians in New York.

Last year, the whimsical comedydrama took home Golden Globes for Best Comedy Series and Best Actor In A Comedy.

The Best Actor award went to Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Rodrigo, the brashly eccentric conductor of the New York Symphony, a character inspired by real-life Los Angeles Philharmonic maestro Gustavo Dudamel.

Co-starring Lola Kirke as Hailey, an ambitious young oboist, the series has been crammed with cameos by real celebrities from the world of classical music, including opera singer Placido Domingo, pianists Emanuel Ax and Lang Lang and violinist Joshua Bell.


Bernal, the 38-year-old Mexican actor who played revolutionary leader Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), says many of the music legends he and the writers dreamt about working with ended up coming on the show, which has been renewed for a fourth season.

"A long time ago, in an interview, I mentioned it would be great to work with Domingo," he tells reporters in Los Angeles last year.

"And I think the idea had just started to materialise, with us obviously reaching out and them being thankful and grateful for a show that's trying to get this music across."

Working with the legendary Spanish tenor, who appears in an episode of the current third season, was an unforgettable experience for Bernal.

"It was incredible. And I've got to say, he's a fantastic actor as well. He would improvise - we did the scene in Spanish and a little bit in English and a little bit in Italian.

"That's professional musicians - they speak every single language, they can improvise, they can come up with anything and they can go up and start to sing anything at any moment.

"We're going to tell our grandchildren that one day, we were in Venice with Domingo and we saw him singing Mozart," says Bernal, who has two children aged eight and six with ex-girlfriend and actress Dolores Fonzi, 38.

Mozart In The Jungle, which debuted on Amazon Prime Video in Singapore late last year, also asks a few probing questions about the future of classical music and its economic viability, with one story arc following the fictional symphony's musicians as they go on strike.

Labour disputes are "a very realistic thing" in the industry, notes executive producer Paul Weitz.

"And behind everything in the show, on some level, is the question: 'Is classical music dead? And if not, then what is its future?' And part of that is the economics of it and connecting that with a show about art and passion and love."

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Sex, drugs and... classical music'. Print Edition | Subscribe