Bradey Cooper’s Maestro made us privy to the nitty-gritty details of the relationship shared by Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre. The film portrays their relationship in a very nuanced and layered manner, and it never imposes its judgment on us but rather serves the facts and perspectives on a platter and then urges us to create our own opinions. Marriages and relationships are not all rainbows; a certain amount of work needs to be put in place in order to sustain them and make them run smoothly. Now, things become a little bit convoluted when you realize that you misjudged your own capabilities, and the aspects you believed you could let go of become an impediment and something that you cannot look beyond. In broad strokes, something like this happened with Felicia, too, and gradually, she understood that she couldn’t make peace with it. As a society, we romanticize the mere concept of love and what it means to be with someone, but Maestro removes all the pretentiousness, takes a very mature look at the scheme of things, and keeps everything quite realistic. So, let’s find out what Felicia felt about the various conflicts she faced in her marriage and if she was ever able to make peace with them.
Did Felicia know about Leonard’s affairs?
Felicia and Leonard met each other at Claudia Arrau’s party, and they just couldn’t take their eyes off each other. In 1951, they got married, and we saw in Maestro how it was the most beautiful thing that happened to them. Felicia became Leonard’s support system, and the best thing about their relationship was that they didn’t have to explicitly say anything to each other if they were not comfortable in a particular situation; rather, they were always able to look through the intentions. In the film, we saw how Serge Koussevitzky started grilling Leonard during the family get-together, saying that he should not indulge in inferior art and waste his time doing things like musical theater that wouldn’t give him glory but rather try to become the first great American conductor. Felicia, at that moment, sensed her husband’s dilemma, and she knew that, as much as he respected Serge, he just wanted to run away from that situation. She held his hands and helped him escape from there so that he was not held accountable for the choices he made. I personally believe that Felicia was somewhat aware of Leonard and David Oppenheim’s relationship.
In the film, Felicia says that she was arrogant enough to believe that she could live and thrive on whatever little love her husband gave, but slowly, she realized that it was not enough. She wanted exclusivity, and a conflict arose when Leonard thought that she wouldn’t have any sort of problem if he casually met with other guys and got intimate with them. Maybe they would have explicitly discussed Leonard’s bisexuality, or the Maestro would have thought it was something that was implied, but he didn’t have any qualms about the fact that he saw other guys. There was a moment in the film that made me feel that Leonard wasn’t guilty about getting intimate with other guys, and he wanted Felicia to accept that aspect of his life, which maybe she accepted too, but then later on had problems dealing with it. It is shown in the film that Felicia caught Leonard in the act with Tommy Cothran, and she just lost her cool. From that moment on, everything went downhill, and Felicia told Leonard on his face that no matter how much he tried to justify his actions and hide behind his professional creations, there was a darkness inside his heart that he couldn’t escape.
Felicia and Leonard separated, and they started seeing other people. Even Felicia went out on dates with other guys, but no one really seemed to interest her. She tried her level best to distract herself from Leonard, but with time, she realized that she couldn’t do without him. She was in a fix, as she knew that she couldn’t be with anyone else other than Leonard, but at the same time, she couldn’t bear the fact that he casually indulged with men and then hoped that she would validate his actions.
Did Felicia feel overshadowed by Leonard?
When Felicia met Leonard, she had a promising career in front of her, and soon, she was reckoned as a Broadway star who was going to be remembered as one of the greatest actresses of all time. But with time, family life took priority, and Felicia had to manage all sorts of things apart from her career. In Maestro, we got to know about how she felt playing the second fiddle during an interview she gave with Leonard. It was made pretty clear that society perceived her as Leonard’s wife and not as Felicia Montealegre. She might not have explicitly said anything at that point in time, but she felt the pinch, and it was quite evident how she minced her words, justifying the fact that she was doing it all willingly and there was no compulsion of any sort.
There was obviously a sense of futility inside her, which Leonard noticed and addressed in one of the scenes of the film. She felt overshadowed by the Maestro, and it felt like something inside her was crushed. Leonard was also depressed a lot of times, but music kept him glued to life. Felicia had nothing to resort to, and when she didn’t even get exclusivity from her husband, she became very restless. Felicia was diagnosed with cancer, and in 1978, she succumbed to her illness. She came back with Leonard during the last phase of her life, and the Maestro was by her side when she needed him the most. They both loved each other, but there were aspects of Leonard’s life that Felicia could never embrace. Felicia believed that she had found a way to tolerate her husband’s extramarital affairs with both men and women, but in reality, she could never make peace with it.