'Mozart In The Jungle' Has Some Real Origins

by Marisa LaScala

Frank sex talk, drug use — that's not normally what you picture when you think of the world of classical music, is it? Yet that's what's presented in Mozart in the Jungle, which returns for its second season on Amazon Prime on Dec. 30. But, with the show coming from creative minds like Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Alex Timbers, and Paul Weitz, that all has to be flights of fancy, right? Or is Mozart in the Jungle based on real life?

Surprisingly, Mozart in the Jungle does have some true origins. The idea came from a novel of the same name, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music , by Blair Tindall, a professional oboist and writer covering classical music. The musician works on Mozart in the Jungle, too, making sure that the little details are true to real life. "Tindall is a consultant on the show," wrote Classical MPR, "which means that the different directors for various episodes would ask her questions about things like concert protocol and what certain words mean and how to make reeds." It may not be a coincidence, then, that one of the main characters on the show, Hailey Rutledge (played by Lola Kirke), is also an oboist.

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Besides the character of Hailey Rutledge, those who know the classical music landscape (admittedly, not me) will see some other figures familiar to the music world. Most notably, conductor Rodrigo De Souza, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, resembles real-life conductor Gustavo Dudamel... a lot. "The similarities between 'Rodrigo' and Gustavo are rather brazen," The Los Angeles Times said. "The fictional character is described as having conducted at La Scala in Milan at age 23. (Dudamel was 25.) He has successfully led a major Scandinavian orchestra. (Dudamel led the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden.) He is so beloved that he is often referred to only by his first name. (Ditto Gustavo.)"

But it isn't just the characters that provide a real-life inspiration for Mozart in the Jungle. The show also tries to accurately reflect the current state of classical music by repurposing snippets of events that have actually happened in real life. "It's revealed in the first episode that the Symphony is hemorrhaging money and that Rodrigo and his fresh, flashy ideas — like playing in the darkness — were expected to save it from financial ruin," Rolling Stone reported in an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the show.

"Later episodes show him navigating (and going against) union rules in order to get his art out there, such as bringing the Symphony for a performance in an alleyway...New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy and shuttered in 2013 after staging its final production, an operatic take on the life of Anna Nicole Smith. The Atlanta Symphony experienced a two-month lockout over a labor dispute this year, while the Minnesota Orchestra was similarly locked out for more than a year."

That's the real trick of Mozart in the Jungle — not stealing a bunch of real-life figures for its cast, but getting people who normally wouldn't think twice about an orchestra to care about the state of classical music.

Images: gaelgarciabernall, the-ghost-of-utopia/Tumblr