The world’s best-known female conductor, Marin Alsop, revealed that she’s “offended” by her best-known fictional counterpart: Lydia Tár.
“So many superficial aspects of Tár seemed to align with my own personal life,” Alsop said in an interview published this week in the U.K.’s Sunday Times. “But once I saw it I was no longer concerned, I was offended: I was offended as a woman, I was offended as a conductor, I was offended as a lesbian.”
The title character in Todd Field’s critically acclaimed film, “Tár,” and Alsop are both barrier-breaking American conductors, protégés of legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein (though Tár’s claim is questionable), teachers at major American conservatories and lesbian moms married to fellow orchestral musicians.
However, the fictional maestro, played by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, is also 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. I think all women and all feminists should be bothered by that kind of depiction because it’s not really about women conductors, is it? It’s about women as leaders in our society,” Alsop, the chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and a MacArthur “genius award” winner, told 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 antiwoman.”
Alsop, who formerly served as the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and several other real-life female conductors are name-checked by Blanchett’s fictional maestro in the first act of “Tár.” 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. Nor, for that matter, should Nathalie Stutzmann, Laurence Equilbey, Marin Alsop or JoAnn Falletta. There were so many incredible women who came before us, women who did the real lifting.”
Alsop appears to disagree with her fictional counterpart, telling the Sunday Times she does not believe “there will be a time when there are no barriers for women” in the world of orchestra conducting.
“I’ve seen progress and then regression many, many times,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the progress we’ve made now is substantive and quantitative enough that it can’t be reversed, because I think there are those who would like to reverse it.”
After Alsop left her post at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in August 2021 after a 14-year tenure, The New York Times reported that there was not one female conductor at any of the country’s 25 largest orchestras. Now, there is just one: Stutzmann, who took the podium at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in October.
While “Tár” may have struck a nerve with Alsop, 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, and it is up for three awards — best film, best actress and best screenplay — at Tuesday’s Golden Globes. It is also expected to be a major player at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony in March.
Focus Features, the U.S. distributor of "Tár," did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment. (Focus Features and NBC News are both owned by Comcast NBCUniversal.)