People seem to feel a need to caveat their willingness to watch Mozart in the Jungle with phrases like ‘oh, it’s not a great show, but it’s entertaining’ and “it’s pseudo-intellectual, but it’s fun.” Ok, for one, pseudo-intellectual is one of my least favorite words. It’s a pretentious word that seeks to shame somebody for wanting to be an intellectual, and in the world we live in, very few people want to be an intellectual so why should we go around shaming somebody who tries but doesn’t quite there? Is it REALLY all that much better to be an authentic dumbass than it is to be somebody who looks smart, but perhaps isn’t quite there? And yes, I suppose you could use to call out poseurs, but as with all forms of purity, who the hell died and left you the arbiter of “real deals” versus poseurs? There are good arguments and weak ones, and even very smart people make weak arguments.
And in this instance, what do you actually expect from television shows? Particularly ones with half-hour episodes?
Mozart has its problems because of lots of things. The Eurocentrism of classical music is well-known even if we are trying to figure what to do with it, and the show itself, even if it does have a Latino lead (an excellent one, too often snidely referred to as a “manic pixie dream boy” by critics–again, what do you expect of television? Is all this exalting of television a means to justify never picking up a book or playing an instrument yourself? What? It’s television. It is the medium it is, both for good and ill.) The show is pretty international, though still not as international as classical music is itself today. The premier practitioners in the field are global talent.
They went daaaaangerously close, and potentially all the way into, the “let’s do classical music for prisoners and watch all the black guys get uplifted by our culture” theme–dangerously close–but though a weak, weak episode, it didn’t press the idea too badly, becoming mostly a half-hour exploration of the music of Faure. Faure. On television. But let’s get real here: some of the best classical singers, both in the history of opera and today, are black men–Eric Owens being one stellar baritone who is on this week at the Met with one of my favorite operas, Rusalka).
Wired told readers to watch the show *despite* the music, not because of it. Wired writers tend to kill themselves with their ever-so-cleverness. The show cares about the music, and the music is at times, remarkable. The first season revolved around an important Sibelius piece. Now if you don’t like Sibelius, to hell with you. But getting Faure on television? Um?
I love the damn show and its music. This season features Ana Maria Martinez singing for the (apparently) ageless Monica Bellucci as La Flamma, a clear attempt to do for Maria Callas what Callas could not do for herself–return to the stage after she lost faith in her voice. We are first introduced to La Flamma via Martinez’s sublime Ave Maria, which was also featured in the move John Q (Denzel Washington.) There’s Placido Domingo! In and amidst some of the stock stuff of operatic soprano like the Ave, there is a new composition that was *supposed* to be a joke. It’s an aria for Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita. It’s no joke. In the hands of composer Nico Muly and Martinez, the aria was both interesting and enjoyable. I was planning to hate it. Instead, I loved it.
This show takes the arts seriously at a time when DT and cronies seek to stamp out our already minimal funding for them.
The music is one thing. The other is simply the way the show has of being unashamedly cosmopolitan.
Gabriel Bernal character’s, Rodrigo, loosely based on Josh Dudamel, rides a bike. Thank you!
Unlike the isolationism that seems to be dominating America, Mozart goes to cities internationally and turns a loving eye to them. Instead of showing Mexico like it’s a desert hellhole full of narcos and goats, some of the series’ most beautiful cinematography covers Mexico City, a city that can well support beautiful imaging. New York is easy to shoot well, as is Venice. But Venice. La Flamma’s house. The wall textiles. “No Internet” La Flamma says to the series’ “dumb kid” character.
More than just the arts and the cities, the characters speak languages fluently. Rodrigo speaks Spanish one minute and then Italian the next, then English. The first season we see Saffron Burrows set foot on Cuba to go get epic drama queen Sir Thomas Bembridge (played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell and featured crabbily here: welcome to earth, motherfckers“) where we see Burrows speaking Spanish. Well! It’s like knowing more than one language is a…good thing?
Yes, it’s about elites. But it is about something elite other than sports.
And Dermot Mulroney can *really* play the cello. Who knew? I didn’t. Well. He can play it well.
And Bernadette Peters can do no wrong. So there.
Did I mention Placido Domingo? He’s my boyfriend. (And Idris Elba. They just don’t know it.)