Marin Alsop, the world’s most famous female conductor, has revealed that she is “offended” by her fictional counterpart, Lydia Tár.
“So many superficial aspects of Tár seemed to align with my own personal life,” Alsop said in a Sunday Times interview published this week. “However, once I saw it, I was no longer concerned; I was offended: offended as a woman, offended as a conductor, and offended as a lesbian.”
Both Tár, the title character in Todd Field’s critically acclaimed film “Tár,” and Alsop are trailblazing American conductors, protégés of legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein (though Tár’s claim is debatable), teachers at major American conservatories, and lesbian mothers married to fellow orchestral musicians.
However, Cate Blanchett’s fictional maestro is a narcissistic and manipulative abuser who is accused of sexual misconduct by a female underling.
“To have an opportunity to portray a woman in that role and to make her an abuser for me that was heartbreaking. That kind of depiction should bother all women and feminists, because it’s not really about female conductors, is it? “It’s about women as leaders in our society,” said Alsop, the chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and a MacArthur “genius” award recipient, to the Sunday Times. “There are so many men actual, documented men this film could have been based on but, instead, it puts a woman in the role but gives her all the attributes of those men. That feels unfeminine.”
In the first act of “Tár,” Blanchett’s fictional maestro mentions Alsop, who was previously the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and several other real-life female conductors. When the title character is being interviewed by real-life New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, playing himself, she says, “As to the question of gender bias, I have nothing to complain about. Nathalie Stutzmann, Laurence Equilbey, Marin Alsop, and JoAnn Falletta, for that matter, should not. There have been so many incredible women who have come before us, women who have done the heavy lifting.”
Alsop appears to disagree with her fictional counterpart, telling the Sunday Times that “there will be a time when there will be no barriers for women” in the world of orchestra conducting.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress and then regression,” she said. “I’m hoping that the progress we’ve made so far is substantive and quantitative enough that it can’t be undone, because I believe there are those who would like to undo it.”
After Alsop left the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in August 2021 after a 14-year tenure, The New York Times reported that none of the country’s 25 largest orchestras had a female conductor. There is now only one: Stutzmann, who took over as conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in October.
While “Tár” may have touched Alsop’s heart, it appears to have had the opposite effect on film critics. The film and Blanchett have already won a number of awards, including an AFI Award and a Gotham Award, and it is up for three Golden Globes this week, including best film, best actress, and best screenplay. It is also expected to play a significant role in this year’s Academy Awards ceremony in March.
Focus Features, the film’s distributor in the United States, did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment. (Comcast NBCUniversal owns both Focus Features and NBC News.